24 conversation starters to build more interesting relationships with anyone: psychotherapist
Most people overlook the value of social relationships; they prefer to keep their heads down and check things off the to-do list. But researchers agree that friendship and sociability are important, especially when it comes to work.
In fact, a 32-year study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that when we focus on building deep relationships with our colleagues, we become more productive and creative. Another study found that groups of friends outperform knowledge groups in decision-making and effort tasks.
As a psychotherapist and podcaster, my job is to make deep connections with everyone I meet. The first step in getting there is simple: ask questions.
The best conversation starters
Some people think that asking work-related questions is boring and generic, while others refrain from anything personal, fearing that they will seem intrusive or curious.
But that’s the wrong mindset – professional and non-work matters are perfectly legitimate. It’s all a matter of context.
For example, if you don’t yet have a close relationship with the person, avoid heavy topics like religion or politics. Instead, start with something small and simple. The key is to be curious and slowly build comfort, confidence and depth.
Below are a few conversation starters that I use to build deeper, more interesting relationships with anyone:
When you are at a gathering and / or meet people for the first time:
1. Do you enjoy this event?
2. I like your [shirt/shoes/sweater]. Where did you get it?
3. Do you generally like these gatherings?
4. Have you met someone interesting so far?
5. If you could start over and take a whole new career direction, what would you do?
6. Have you been working on any cool projects lately?
Because when you talk to someone you don’t know very well:
7. Did something interesting happen at work today?
8. Do you currently read any books that you would recommend?
9. What has been the biggest change in your routine since the pandemic?
10. Have you watched [that TV show/movie/documentary] everyone is talking about?
11. What’s the last great podcast you listened to?
12. If you could be anywhere else right now, where would it be?
When you already have an established relationship with someone (that is, you feel relatively close or comfortable with them):
13. How was your vacation [X place]?
14. How is your [parent/sibling/partner/kid] Make?
15. Are you going back to the office soon? How do you feel about this?
16. Did you complete this project you were telling me about? How was it?
17. Who is your biggest pet peeve?
18. How do you spend your free time these days?
For any situation:
19. How would you describe yourself in three words?
20. What’s the most useful thing you’ve bought from Amazon this year?
21. What would you do with 10 hours of overtime per week?
22. What is the craziest thing you have experienced this year?
23. What is your greatest guilty pleasure?
24. If you could be a famous person’s best friend, who would it be?
Remember, not all questions are suitable for all people or all situations. Don’t ask probing questions that don’t reflect the depth of your relationship. Take into account who you are talking to and what you know about them.
Some other useful tips to remember:
- Make show kindness, curiosity, commitment and compassion.
- Make repeat or reflect on what you hear for clarity.
- Not cut them.
- Not push your own agenda.
As with any relationship, starting an interaction marked by respect and trust can create positive energy, commitment, and ultimately a more interesting relationship.
Joe sanok is a psychotherapist and author of “Thursday is the new Friday: how to work fewer hours, earn more money, and spend time doing what you want.” It also hosts the popular “The practice of the practice”, where he interviews authors, academics, experts, business leaders and innovators. Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeSanok.