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Talking It Over: Conversation starters

Katie Erdman

There are times when I am with a group of people, or even with just one, that my mind is a total blank as far as conversation goes. I cannot think of a single thing to say, which is rare for me when with friends, but happens often with strangers or mild acquaintances.

If I know that I will be in groups like this, I try to come up with subjects for conversation in advance. This is can be difficult since I really don't have a lot of common interests with most of these people. I do know what to avoid. I know not to bring up politics or religion. Totally taboo discussion topics in small groups. I also try to avoid health or financial talk since this can lead to way more information than I need.

It would be nice to learn more about a person's interests or hobbies, but here again, how to you get to that point in the conversation. Do you just ask, what are your hobbies? or do you try to get around to it by asking "what did you do over the weekend, on vacation, etc?

I know that I am not alone in this dilemma. I can be sitting with a group of people when the conversation totally dies and I know everyone is trying to come up with something to say. Each one worried that anything they bring up may be viewed as trivial or, worse yet, put a theme on your head such as, that person will only talk about her grandchildren. I don't want to be the person who drags out pictures to show to total strangers.

I think there are a few safe subjects to bring up. You can always talk about the weather or current news items. That would mean you have to pay attention to both of these subjects in order to have something worthwhile to say. Once that expires, hopefully someone else would join the group and you can start the discussion all over again with a different slant.

I have decided that there is one other option to the struggle for conversation. Silence. In my opinion, saying nothing can be better than boring a person with idle chit chat. When I attend a meeting or conference, I would rather sit back and listen than ask a lot of meaningless questions that can get the subject way off track. I can learn more and offer better input if I shut-up and listen instead of over-talking or over-thinking.

Therefore, silence can be the best way to communicate. Small talk is good over coffee or cocktails but should remain at that. Short, sweet and to the point. The best conversation can just be a word or two. Something to add without boring the other people to death. Listening and keeping your mouth shut is an important part of being involved in a conversation. Maybe next time, I will just bring a cheat sheet of two word comments that can be added into any conversation.