9 ways to skip the shallow small talk and have deep conversations

Small talk exists for a reason.

When you first meet someone at a conference or a cocktail party, you might seem a little strange if you launch right into, “What’s your favourite childhood memory?”

That said, you don’t want to get stuck talking about the fact that it’s raining hard forever. At some point, you’ll want to hear a person’s real story — why they chose to go into their current line of work or what they love about being a dad.

To help you have more meaningful conversations, we checked out some relevant Quora threads and other advice and highlighted the best tips.

Read on to find out what you should (and shouldn’t) say to spark substantive dialogue.

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1. Have some 'deep' conversation starters on hand.

Don't expect substantive topics to instantly spring to mind. Instead, says Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest, you should approach any interaction with a few deep conversation starters ready to go.

Chou suggests reading some books on behavioural economics and pop psychology and talking about them, 'since those subjects are fundamentally about people — and everyone is a person, has to interact with other people, and has opinions about their own behavior and other people's behavior.'

She also recommends watching a few TED Talks — 'another great source of cool ideas about the world.' We suggest starting with some TED Talks that will make you smarter about business.

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2. Ask questions about topics the other person is interested in.

Multiple Quora users indicated that one of the best ways to start an interesting conversation is to find something the other person is excited about. Show that you want to learn more about the topic by asking a series of questions about it.

Says Tatiana Esteves: 'Try picking a topic that they are really interested in and start with a normal 'shallow conversation.' Then ask quite probing question(s) even if the subject isn't that serious.'

For example, Esteves says, 'if they like celebrity news, ask them if they think that the 'celebrity culture' is making people less happy with their lives.'


3. Find out what makes the other person special.

Whatever you say, writes Joshua Evans, 'avoid the awful opening phrase, 'What do you do?'' You'll put your conversation partner in a box where all he can talk about is his job.

Instead, Evans says you should ask, 'What makes you a badass? That will induce a chuckle over drinks.'

You might even find out something crazy; perhaps they are a lawyer by day and a rock musician by night.

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4. Avoid discussing the weather.

So it's three degrees colder than average for December. Big deal.

'Avoid (talking about the weather) like the plague. It's like the black hole of shallow conversation,' says Ambra Benjamin, an engineering recruiter at Facebook.

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5. Assume the other person has deep thoughts.

'If you assume that there is any possibility that the other person might be dull or will talk stupid, maybe you won't ask things that draw them out in the right way and YOU will ruin the discussion by making it dull,' writes Tobias C. Brown.

In other words, assume the other person is just as eager to have meaningful conversations as you are.

8. Talk about something specific you're working on.

When someone asks you what you do for a living, don't simply say you're a writer or a doctor. According to Lifehacker, you can liven up the conversation by adding a few details about something you accomplished that week.

Similarly, when you're asked what you do for fun, talk about a recent experience you had doing your hobby, whether that's knitting wool scarves or jogging in the park.

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