How to start a meaningful, interesting conversation?
June 10, 2006 3:44 PM   Subscribe

How can I get friends and strangers to have a meaningful, intelligent conversation about something deeper than music or cars? Specifically what are some good thought provoking questions or topics to bring up that the average person could discuss?

Im twenty years old, and some of my friends are just more interested in getting drunk etc. Keep in mind a suitable answer to the question would NOT involve finding new friends with more similiar interests to mine.

I'm curious to see what answers and suggestions I get.
posted by JokingClown to Human Relations (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
1: There is nothing deeper than music or cars.

2: I find that the topics of conversations I'm in depend a lot on the people I'm talking with. I have friends who I talk to about music and cars, friends I talk to about religion, and friends I talk to about literature, philosophy and the like. (of course, my best friends are the ones who talk about all of those things). In short, it's less a matter of what questions or topics you bring up than it is about who you're talking with. Spend your time with deep people, you'll talk about deep things . . .
posted by JekPorkins at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2006

It's not the topic. You can have dumb or intelligent conversations about any subject in the world. Open, inquiring attitudes and original points of view are usually what leads to meaningful & interesting discussions--on any topic.
posted by muckster at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2006

I like asking people I've just met this question:

Is it more important in a relationship to be loved or understood?

It's really not that deep of a question, because the answer is always "neither/both" but it has a way of getting someone talking about something a little more interesting than sports.

Pose it like: "I've been going crazy trying to decide about this, what do you think?"
posted by scarabic at 4:07 PM on June 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

The topic is mostly irrelevant.

The key to a good conversation is to listen, and, when listening, to draw connections between what the other other party says and other interesting things.

You'll wind up talking anyhow, so you don't need to concentrate on that so much. If you constantly listen to and engage the other person, they'll actually be involved, and they'll open up to you, and a good conversation will descend upon you in a thud of surprise.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:24 PM on June 10, 2006

third the "it's not the topic." both music & cars are easily steered towards "deeper" but related questions (aesthetics, ethics, politics) if the people you're talking to are amenable.
posted by juv3nal at 4:42 PM on June 10, 2006

if you like your friends and want to keep liking them -- id steer away from any 'meaningful' conversation ;)
posted by Satapher at 5:24 PM on June 10, 2006

I agree that it's not the topic, but for a group in a quietish bar "What's your paradigm?" Is a fun start. (And then everyone goes around in a circle and explains briefly what measuring stick they judge themselves/life by.) It's pretty awesome, especially if there are any philosophy majors and/or debate kids around.

I was a debate kid, so I take a particular joy in using a question I would never ask a judge but always heard.
posted by bilabial at 5:27 PM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree that all subjects are (or can be) equally deep. The question is how do you drive topic X from superficial to something deeper?

I also don't think any conversation is really superficial. If the text is light, the the subtext is probably deep -- and vice versa. In other words, if you're talking music in a really light way, the REAL purpose of the conversation is probably under the hood. Perhaps it's a conversation about, "I really love you guys and am thrilled to be hanging out with you."

But I take it this question is about how to drive OVERT conversation (the non-subtext part) towards depth. Okay, well, most non-deep conversations are opinion polls: you like that band? Me too! You guys are nuts, that band sucks. Aw, you're crazy, it's great! You know what band I like...?

You have to get beyond that. One of the ways you can do so is to turn polls into occasions for storytelling: You really like that band? Well, did you ever hear them play live? I did, and guess what happened...? That one song of theirs reminds me of the first girl I ever kissed. It was in 5th grade and...

Storytelling is the sort of depth that takes place in most everyday, man-on-the-street conversations. Many people are uncomfortable with talk that is more philosophical/intellectual ("Is there gonna be a quiz after this?"), but if you're in the right group there you can move the conversation towards essays rather than stories.

To do so, steer away from polls and towards WHY. Why do you think we all like the same sort of music? Why do people listen to music?

Try counterfactuals: what would the world be like without music? If band x and y got together, what sort of music would they make?

Try psychology: how does this music make you feel? Why do you think it makes you feel that way?

Try history: what music did your parents listen to? Why do you think it's not popular any more? How did it lead to the music we listen to today?
posted by grumblebee at 5:33 PM on June 10, 2006 [12 favorites]

Best answer: "I have a theory..."

I used to use this mainly just as a general conversation starter, but it would probably also accomplish what you're talking about. Could be something you just made up 30 seconds ago, could be something you've been thinking about for years.

I have a theory that car choice is directly tied to one's position on the Federal Marriage Amendment. I have a theory that music is actually the leading cause of nostalgia for our generation. I have a theory that listening to the radio in the car leads directly to better driving. I have a theory that guys tend to talk about music because decades of feminism have left us unsure about other ways to express our emotions. I have a theory that guys talk about cars because we no longer hunt, and therefore have no other ways to prove our manliness. I have a theory that everything good in music can be traced back to either Led Zepplin or Barry Manilow.

Whatever. Just make sure you have at least one or two examples to babble on about when people look at you like you're nuts. It's actually fun to be a babbling idiot for a while; it inspires your friends to think equally outlandishly. Sometimes the conversations get silly philosophical, sometimes they get actual philosophical. And I like the "theory" phrasing because it lets you change your mind, or explore your ideas, and not just have to defend your position.

And for some reason, setting it up this way gets people more likely to talk than just saying, "I think X, Y, and Z." It puts it on a slightly more impersonal level, I think, so people don't feel quite as put on the spot.

Can be used over and over. (With different theories, of course.)
posted by occhiblu at 6:03 PM on June 10, 2006 [4 favorites]

I agree with jekporkins that music or cars can provide as much meaningful conversation as anything else, but if it's more depth you desire, relating your car/music discussions to other, more philisophical questions could be useful. I figure everyone's got an opinion philosophically but it's hard to get some people to open up. Starting at a common point and evolving the conversation from there might be a way to get everyone talking. I think grumblebee's got some good tips to evolve the convo in that direction.
posted by marxfriedrice at 7:31 PM on June 10, 2006

My favorite:
How many six year olds do you think you could take on? Lets say you're in the middle of a flat open field and the six year olds are all very intent on killing you, and they've all had maybe two hours of instruction. Work as a group, go for the throat, etc. How many could you take on, all at once, before you were overpowered?
EVERYONE seems to like to talk about this. All my friends anyway. The given circumstances of the fight produce a lot of discussion; for instance, are the six year olds possessed of unnatural stamina or attention span? Are the six year olds really angry? What tactics are permissible? etc...
I think I could probably take on about 25, but that would only be by running around a bit to separate the faster six year olds from the slower ones. Weapons would make a lot of difference too; the numbers go down significantly if there are sticks around for the six year olds to pick up.
Limitless potential for debate and discussion. :-)
posted by raygan at 12:28 AM on June 11, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments most of them were very helpful.

I dont need new friends, I have many who love to have more serious conversations. I just happen to love to constantly have serious conversations. Also, if you'll notice I specifically requested for people to not suggest that I meet new people.

Grumblebee said "I agree that all subjects are (or can be) equally deep. The question is how do you drive topic X from superficial to something deeper?"

I agree with that completely. One thing I hate about ask.metafilter is that whenever I ask a question, someone always finds a way to rephrase it in the way I wish i had thought of originally.

I also liked the suggestion about the "I have a theory..." conversation starter.
posted by JokingClown at 12:54 AM on June 11, 2006

"I have a theory" rocks and may become my new verbal tic of choice.

Another angle is to take something from the realm of gossip and the quotidian and steer it into a discussion of general principle. Brad is cheating on Janet? Under what circumstances would a person be justified in cheating? Does evolutionary psychology explain this? Are we all victims of a millennia-old social structure that no longer works well in this age?


Or you could be like my friend Matt, and start: "Heidegger says..."

Or you could wait 10 years and discover the pleasures of talking shite because the world in its terror and glory is just too much for everyday.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:39 AM on June 11, 2006

I am probably only restating what grumblebee and occhiblu have said but I think the key issue here is doing some research into cars and sports and anything else that you want to talk about so that you can be provocative and foster those conversations. Otherwise, an apparently deep topic will always end up being just as, if not more banal, than the topics that you are currently finding tedious. If you start something without a vague idea of how the issue lays out you are in danger of letting things easily fall flat. If you don't have some viable understanding for why x relates to y and you offer it as a conversation starter than why shouldn't everyone just stare at you blankly?

Look around for writing and research on sports, or cars, or whatever, that takes in the banal points you're losing interest in and relates them to more expansive problem of social relevance. You don’t want to be pedantic with all sorts of useless facts at your finger tips. You do want to have a sense of what the issues are and where the controversy lies. Then, when your friends venture into the relevant area you can not only drop interesting questions in but you can also keep the conversation up with various interesting points that only further complicate things. Your friends might surprise you with their ability to make less than interesting detail entirely relevant to a much more complicated topic.

Once you do this I suspect two things will likely emerge, some of your friends will be keen to join these conversations and welcome your efforts while another group will find it annoying and not want to talk about ‘serious’ things. The latter group will actively undermine your efforts to have a more involved conversation and you shouldn’t take offense. They might want things to stay the same because that’s what they like and it’s your problem if you were/are unsatisfied. You can also start to identify if there is a right time and wrong time. Don’t intervene with your conversations when the craic is already there – let people enjoy mindless discussion and banter when its good. The joy there is in the interaction not in its content and if that is what’s boring you that’s a different issue. Bring in your topics when things are a bit flat for whatever reason aside from exhaustion or distress. Good luck.
posted by anglophiliated at 1:45 AM on June 11, 2006

As people have said, cars can be deep.

When do you friends think there will be mass produced self-driven cars?

What do they think the most important innovations in cars in the past 20 years have been? What countries did they come from? Why did they come from those particular countries and not others?
posted by sien at 2:01 AM on June 11, 2006

bilabial - "What's your paradigm" would only work for certain groups.

There are a lot of people who wouldn't give you twenty cents for your paradigms.
posted by megatherium at 5:15 AM on June 11, 2006

I also don't think any conversation is really superficial. If the text is light, the the subtext is probably deep -- and vice versa. In other words, if you're talking music in a really light way, the REAL purpose of the conversation is probably under the hood. Perhaps it's a conversation about, "I really love you guys and am thrilled to be hanging out with you."

The other side of this: the subtext may well be "we, uh, have to talk about something, because otherwise we're just sitting here staring at each other, bored and wishing we were doing something else."

Hopefully not, but at least be aware of the possibility that the conversation is a space-filler, a polite game you're playing to avoid addressing the fact that you're tired with or simply don't really entertain one another. Because if that is the case, conversation starters are a temporary fix at best.
posted by cortex at 7:55 AM on June 11, 2006

Man, now I have to wonder if people think I'm using a conversation-starter every time I say "I have a theory"?
Oh well, I guess there's worse things in this world. At least it makes you express some goddamned opinions, which I should warn you kills as many conversations as it starts.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2006

ch1x0r, heh. I never really thought of it as "Now I'm going to start a conversation, what's a theory I'm working on," though. I just have a lot of theories, and found that people are usually amused to hear them!
posted by occhiblu at 12:41 PM on June 11, 2006

I disagree with much of what has been said here. I think good, "deep" conversations have to evolve organically and whether they are possible depends on a lot of factors including how long you have known the friends, how smart you and they are, how much common knowledge the two of you have, what your and their psychologies are like, whether alcohol is involved, etc.

I think people who are big on "I have a theory" type conversations are annoying, and such attempts to start conversations, while well-meaning, don't work very well. I also think pre-fabricated topics for discussion, such as "how many six-year olds could you take on," are irritating and pointless. These forced attempts to spark "deep" discussion may only produce fake-deep conversation, or conversation that is mainly a forum for the intellectual showing-off of one of the interlocutors.

Conversation is complex, living thing, and you can't force deep conversation. Some people, because of their personalities, are not capable of mutually satisfying deep conversation.
posted by jayder at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

« Older Introverted   |   Is there more to do in Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.