So a few weeks back in Shine, Yahoo’s lifestyle section (imagine a Parade Magazine for the online masses), writer Gretchen Rubin suggested ways to make a good impression and not bore others in conversation. She said:
Unless you get a truly enthusiastic response from your interlocutor—which is possible—be very wary of recounting…
1. A dream.
2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule.
3. The route you took to get here.
4. An excellent meal you once had at a restaurant.
5. The latest additions to your wine cellar.
6. An account of your last tennis game.
7. The plot of a movie, play or book—in particular, the funny parts.
What do these subjects have in common? The listener has nothing to add. He or she must just hear you describe your experience.
Now, it’s not as if these subjects could never be interesting to someone. A great storyteller, of course, can make anything interesting.
She’s put a lot of great conversation starters on a “no-fly” list. I’m not quite sure what kind of conversation you can have with a person if you adhere to her list of “7 topics to avoid if you don’t want to be a bore”.
First off, I don’t know why she hasn’t included sex, politics, and religion. All three are polarizing and historically have been taboo when talking to complete strangers. The last two subjects alone allow people to jaw on ad nauseam for countless minutes. Let’s examine her list more closely.
1. A Dream – Why not? Most people sleep and hence most people dream. Its a relatable subject. Its a great jumping off point to other topics. And if the dream is really wacky, you should back away from them very slowly. Or if they happen to share your desire to be assaulted by clowns in candystriper outfits– you might have found a kindred soul.
2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule. – Unless you have kids the same age or within a few years, I’m in agreement with Rubin. Don’t bring it up.
3. The route you took to get here. – If you live in a major metropolitan area, this one is an icebreaker. It leads to how long have you lived here? Do you like where you live? Where were you before? If you’re in a small town– its a snooze, you walked or rode your John Deere tractor.
4. An excellent meal you once had at a restaurant. – Some people are foodies. They love to talk about food, cooking, preparation, gardening, anything related to food. It also opens the door to travel conversations. Everyone I’ve ever met has a good road trip story. Even nuns. So I have to disagree with Rubin.
5. The latest additions to your wine cellar. - Similar to number four. This one can come up in areas where wine is grown and its part of the local flavor or in major metros where its consumed. And if you don’t like wine, then talk about some other kind of alcohol or a great bar you’ve been to. For obvious reasons, this one doesn’t work as well at an AA meeting.
6. An account of your last tennis game. - Rubin is half right. Discussing tennis, golf, fishing, any hobby should be restricted to people who have an actual interest in said sport/hobby. Rubin misses the point with this list. Sure, there’s a chance you might bore someone. But people are more comfortable discussing topics they know something about. I’d rather be in a discussion with someone who is passionate about a topic rather than someone talking out of their ass trying to impress me.
7. The plot of a movie, play or book—in particular, the funny parts. - So wrong. What kind of entertainment a person consumes and then likes to talk about is very revealing. A lot of times this should be the first conversation you have with someone. If they only read Tim LaHaye novels and you prefer Anne Rice– this is not a good pairing. From the types of books and movies a person like you can tell a lot about a person’s temperament their openness to ideas.
Again following Rubin’s lists risks missing out on potentially good and stimulating conversation.