by Kasia Manolas
Introverts and extroverts both struggle at times to start conversations with strangers or acquaintances, but this is especially true for introverts like me. Whether you’re heading back into the office, attending a networking event, wedding, or seeing a friend after a few years living in separate cities, we wanted to give you some ideas for starting and navigating conversation.
In this article, we’re providing 9 conversation starters, and also a few ways to keep the conversation going, or exit gracefully. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in a conversation we’d love to politely leave, especially in a world that feels chaotic, politically polarized, and greatly changed by the pandemic. While the world can feel a bit heavier at times, we hope these conversation starters help:
#1 How was your day?
This one is a classic because it works. As Dale Carnegie said, “To be interesting, be interested.” Asking people specific questions about how they are and what’s going on in their world will usually get people chatting and a conversation will roll from there. If they reply with a simple, “It was good,” try to probe a little deeper with a question like, “Were there any particularly stand-out moments?” or “What was your favorite part of the day?”
You can also try a few alternatives to “how are you,” like:
- What’s been top of mind for you lately?
- What are you looking forward to today?
- How have you been feeling today?
#2 Share a compliment with a question
If you notice something you love about someone, compliment them! Simple compliments with a question are great conversation openers, such as:
“I love your hat, where did you get it?”
Or “I’ve been looking for a new laptop to buy, do you like yours?”
These simple questions are specific and give the person receiving them something easy to answer. Plus, it makes them—and you—feel good! We’re all about spreading the joy here at Touchy Feely, so compliment away!
#3 Have you watched any good shows or movies lately?
Most of us have at least one guilty pleasure on streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, so this one is a relatively easy question to answer. Plus, you’ll find out something new about the person in front of you (what genre are they into?) and you’ll even get some show recs for yourself. Win-win.
#4 Have you read any good books lately?
This question can sometimes catch people off guard, but that’s one of the reasons why it’s so amazing. Very few people are discussing books these days, but there’s something classy and intellectual about this question, and it’s a great way to form an immediate connection with a fellow book lover. If you want to keep the conversation going, ask them what they like about it and if they recommend that you read it.
If they haven’t read anything, ask them if there’s a podcast, magazine, or email newsletter they subscribe to instead.
#5 Do you have children or pets?
Parents love talking about their children. They’ll probably even want to show you a photo or two. This is true of human children, but also pets! It’s a great way to connect with someone by finding out more about their family.
And speaking from experience, pet owners love talking about their pets. A great follow-up question is to find out what led them to choose their pet: Did they rescue? Did they have an immediate connection? What has it been like caretaking for their pet?
Every animal has a unique personality and pet lovers will definitely enjoy telling you about it!
This can also be a great collaborative conversation if you have children or a pet, too.
Sharing experiences and relating to one another is a winning combination for a great conversation.
#6 What do you like to do in your leisure time? Hobbies?
This is quite possibly the best question to better understand someone and what they value. Do they like to spend their down time with family? Are they into cooking or restaurants? Writing the next bestselling novel? Maybe you will have something in common; or maybe the conversation will go in an unexpected and fun direction!
#7 Where did you grow up or go to school?
This is a great question for finding out about someone’s background. Have they always lived where they are now? Maybe they moved from across the country or even from outside the country. Everyone has a unique story that is just waiting to be uncovered in conversation.
#8 Do you have any fun plans this weekend or coming up in the near future?
This question keeps the conversation grounded in the present or near future. And even better, you might hear about a concert in your town or something fun that you’d like to do in the future, too. We also understand that sometimes these types of questions can put pressure on the other person to have something “fun” going on in their life. Sometimes weekends are for errands and catching up with responsibilities, in which case, you could ask:
“Do you like to do anything particular on the weekends?”
This leaves the possibility to answer about any weekend, not just this weekend.
#9 How do you know ___? Or what brought you to ____?
This one is a winning favorite. If you’re at a wedding or social event where you don’t know everyone, it’s a great warm-up question to find out what brought someone to the same event that you’re at. You might find you have mutual friends, or simply a mutual hobby in common that brought you there.
How to keep the conversation going
Okay, you’ve broken the ice. Now what?
Ideally, whoever you’re talking to will ask you questions back and the conversation will naturally flow around that topic. But if you find yourself at an awkward stop, try asking a follow-up question.
For example, if you compliment someone’s hat and they let you know where they got it, try following up with another, unrelated, question from this list, like “What brought you to this event?” It’s okay for opening questions to not lead to a full-blown conversation on that topic. Opening questions are just that: openers.
If you find that the person you’re talking with is not a great conversationalist or doesn’t want to keep it going, that’s okay, too. We have tips for gracefully exiting the convo next:
How to gracefully end a conversation or social interaction
Conversations are not meant to last forever and that’s okay! If you’d like a graceful way to exit, try these tricks:
- Ask the person you’re talking to if there’s anyone else at the event they could introduce you to. This naturally leads to a new introduction and a new conversation can begin.
- Introduce the person you’re speaking with to someone else you know at the party. Similar to the above point, this will naturally segway to a new conversation. If you don’t remember the person’s name who you’re speaking to, try politely saying, “Can you remind me of your name?” This is a common occurrence, so they likely won’t mind. It can also be helpful to casually offer up your name. They probably forgot too!
- Excuse yourself to grab food or a drink.
- End the conversation in a really uplifting way by saying, “It’s been such a pleasure talking to you and getting to know you. That one story about your dog was so funny. Let’s talk more soon!”
- A great way to end on a positive note is to circle back to something from the conversation into your goodbye. For example, if they told you they’re going to a concert this weekend, tell them to have fun and enjoy!
- If you’ve really enjoyed the conversation, you can end by making a plan with them, i.e. “I have to run but I’d love to grab coffee when we’re both free. I’ll text you.” Of course, only say this if you mean it. Or, you can ask to connect on social media by sharing your handle or social profile url.
- You can also take the more direct approach and gently let someone know that you need to leave the conversation soon. For example, you can say, “One last thing before I go…” or “I have a call in ten minutes, but I’d love to circle back to this next week when we chat.”
It’s helpful to remember that everyone is used to conversations ending. As long as you’re polite about it, people understand.
If you’re an introvert, then you might also be an empath. Conversations, especially at large events, can be stressful for introverts and empaths alike. Check out how to cope with modern stressors for more tips.
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