Certainly, we talk about other people because we want to suppress their power and authority in order to “elevate” our own, but I think we also talk about other people, simply because we don’t know what else to talk about. In a workplace setting, when we are uncomfortable at a social gathering, around family members there is some tension with, and we aren’t quite sure how else to connect with people, using other people can serve as a talking point to breach connection; we don’t want to talk about the weather (because that is boring), and we don’t want to talk about politics (because that could wound our relationships), so talking about other people seems to be a “safe” bet. But, as we all know, gossip is very, very bad, and can lead us into some dangerous territory. So, if we don’t want to talk about other people, what else could we POSSIBLY discuss?
10. Places You Have Been, Places You Want to Go: As you probably already know, I am a huge advocate for travel; travel encourages you to be outside of your comfort zone and learn about yourself; it expands your world view, and makes your realize just how large the world is–and just how small you are. Technology allows us to witness the incredible depths of the world, to easily plan our vacations and get the best deals, but there is nothing like hearing it straight from the source (this is how they did it in the olden days). You can discuss their accommodations, which attractions and restaurants they would recommend, how the weather was, how long the flight was (to which everyone ALWAYS can share international flight horror stories).
9. Books: No one really reads anymore (unless you are a nerdy English major, such as myself), so asking, “Do you read books?” kind of pigeonholes the conversation to be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, and then the conversation dies. Instead, I always try to ask, “What kind of books do you like to read?”, or quite frankly, “What is your favorite book?”, and I always receive a plethora of responses. People might actually have a favorite book to talk about (if you ask me, I currently have six favorite books, so depending on how long you want the conversation to last, you might want to skip this topic). People might say, “You know, I haven’t read a book since high school, but I did really enjoy ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (see next point). Or, they might respond, “I don’t really read a lot of books, but I do lots of research online”, to which you could discuss what they are researching and why. Or, if they don’t read books, surly they watch T.V., and you can ask them questions about how they felt about Robby on ‘The Bachelorette’, whether they find Skyler annoying in ‘Breaking Bad’ (it is perfectly acceptable to gossip about fictional characters), or what they think of Don Draper (I love him). And if all else fails, you can always ask them which T.V. shows they would recommend, and why.
8. High School Experiences: Some of our most fundamental and memorable moments of development occur during high school. We all have teachers we loved, teachers we didn’t love, trouble we got into, most embarrassing moments that occurred during those four formative years. We all had awkward first dates, a humorous situation come up, a senior prank that did (or did not) fall through. We all were involved in some kind of activity, got our driver’s licenses, got grounded. High school is just as social as it is academic, and for some reason, our high school experiences become deeply embedded in our identities, and is something we can all relate to, share stories about. I personally love telling the story about how my sister rolled her ankle on the way to the bus stop, and I just left her, collapsed on the curb, so that I could get to school in time.
7. Everyday Habits: 30% of my conversations with my friends revolve around our everyday habit of yoga; we talk about which fancy mat we should buy next, what new yoga teacher we should try (or try to avoid), what new pose we recently mastered. We talk about the benefits of yoga, about the one time we almost blacked out due to high altitude, the newest injury we sustained from being too competitive. So, instead of gossiping about other people, we can talk about work out routines (why you choose Cross Fit over anything else), dietary habits (like, I can’t seem to stomach quinoa–do you have any good recipes?), which route you drive to work, how often/not often you do your laundry, etc.
6. Future Goals: The way that time works, when we meet people, we supplant ourselves in the current ring of their life, and we see them as fixated, stagnant creatures. But, in reality, we (hopefully) are moving, growing, creating, learning, changing. So, when we first meet someone, and we hear that they are a server at the Cheesecake Factory, perhaps there is something a little more to that story (they almost died in a motorcycle accident, are studying to be a doctor, etc.), and asking about future goals might provide other avenues for conversation.
5. How Current Events/Policies May Impact You: So, we may want to stay away from politics (especially at this heated time in our history), but we can certainly discuss how current events/changes in policy impact other people. For example, just recently, I was conversing with a small business owner, and I asked how Obama-Case impacted his business; his response, while showed inklings of his political affiliations, shared the financial struggles such policies place on small businesses. Or, perhaps you might want to ask someone how the traffic on Mainstreet is impacting their quality of living (to which you might get into a conversation about Colorado culture, and how too many people are moving in).
4. Projects You are Working On: It seems that everyone my age is starting to buy houses, and trying their hands at being fixer-uppers, so therefore they want to talk all about their trips to Home Depot and the kind of paint they picked out and brag about the shelf they just installed (that their dad then had to come reinforce). Maybe they are starting a corn hole business, or fixing up an old car, and you want to ask how they are doing it, what materials they are using, where they are learning the procedures from. Maybe they are writing a book, finishing a degree, and what you REALLY want to do is share your own experiences.
3. Where You Come From: The great thing about America is that we all come from different backgrounds. Some people are fifth generation American, and some people’s parents just immigrated over. Some people were born into money, others were from blue collar families who have strong ties to the union. Some people came from big cities, others from rural areas. Some people had large families, others were only children. And each of these factors alters our views and our experiences of the world, and as I believe with traveling, it’s important to open our minds to the endless possibilities and differences we face, because it helps me to learn more about myself, and develop empathy for the people around me.
2. How They Spend Their Free Time: Sometimes, I feel a little uncomfortable asking people why they do for a living (especially during the recession when everyone was getting laid off and it clearly is a sore spot), and I’m trying to get away from the mentality that work defines our status/importance, so sometimes I just ask people what they do in their free time–and you find out way more interesting things about people that you never knew before. Like, I just met someone who spent their childhood training for the Olympic gymnastic team, and this other guy who runs a radio show on the weekends. Finding out those things are MUCH more meaningful than discussing who may or may not have just gotten botox.
1.Puppies & Kitties: And, when all else fails and there is nothing else to discuss and the conversation is dying off (but you for some reason have three more hours to sustain it), asking people about their puppies and kitties always breeds way for conversation and connection. I’d say 55% of my family’s conversations stem around our pets–what new roadkill Daisy ate, the Kitty Castle Kayla just purchased off Amazon, Annie’s new favorite T.V. show, Roy Rogers. People love, love, love to talk about their animals (even if you aren’t necessarily listening).
…Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”.