Whether you are trying to settle into a new role or meeting a new professional contact, the ability to start a conversation is an excellent skill for networking and building relationships. However, it can be a challenge to find the right words the first time you meet someone. Regardless of the situation or personality of the person you want to talk to, there are several effective ways to begin a conversation.
In this article we’ll provide some examples you can use when starting conversations.
How to start a conversation
In the workplace, you can choose a wide variety of topics as long as they are appropriate for the environment. Conversation starters with colleagues or professional contacts will look different than those with new friends or acquaintances. Your initial efforts could start a conversation that will help you build valuable relationships with coworkers and colleagues. Here are some of the best conversation starters for work:
- Ask for information.
- Pay a compliment.
- Comment on something pleasant.
- Introduce yourself.
- Offer help.
- Ask for help.
- Mention a shared experience.
- Ask for an opinion.
- Praise the person.
- Show genuine interest.
- Ask about them.
- Make an observation.
- Comment on the weather.
1. Ask for information
A great way to start a conversation is to ask for information from the person you want to talk to. This is an effective, natural way to build rapport with someone quickly. Even if you already know the answer to your question, it is still a great way to approach someone if you cannot think of another topic.
For example, if you are attending an event and see a colleague you have not talked to yet, you can ask them about the conference.
Example: “Do you know if the Regional Director will speak after the opening session?”
With this, you can take the conversation even further by mentioning something you like about the speakers, and so on.
2. Pay a compliment
Giving someone a compliment can liven their day and boost their confidence. You can pick something about the person you like and mention why you like it.
Example: “I really like your hair. The cut suits you.”
There are several follow-up questions you can ask to keep the conversation going, such as where they go to get their hair cut or how they chose the style.
3. Comment on something pleasant
You can usually find something positive to say about an event or situation. The occasion could have been the last office happy hour or a game that was on the night before. If the person shares your views, you are on your way to an engaging conversation.
Example: “Did you watch the football game last night? I think our team finally hit their stride.”
From there, the conversation can go deeper in the game, or a tangential subject, such as a different sports team.
4. Introduce yourself
While this may not be suitable for every situation, it is a straightforward way of showing you are interested in meeting someone. If you just started a new job and have not met someone in another department yet, you can approach them and introduce yourself.
Example: “Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m new to the team and wanted to introduce myself.”
You can then ask follow-up questions about their position or how long they have been with the company.
5. Offer help
If you find yourself in a position to assist a person you want to talk to, seize the moment and offer them help. Offering help can make you likable and earn the trust of the other person, especially when you show a genuine concern.
Example: “Can I help you file away some of those binders?” or “Do you need a seat?”
From there, you can lead into conversation related to the task, such as what is in the contents of the binders.
6. Ask for help
Requesting help is another effective conversation starter. It works because it makes the other person feel helpful, especially if it’s something they can provide easily. If someone does you a favor, they may be more likely to think of you in a favorable light and trust you. Asking for help can help you start a friendly conversation, but make sure your request is convenient for the other party.
Example: “Could you tell me where this conference room is located?” or “Could I borrow a pen from you?”?”
7. Mention a shared experience
If you want to talk to someone who you know shares something in common with you, you can always find a topic as a talking point. Your shared experiences make getting along easier, and that aids the flow of the conversation and building of the relationship.
Example: “When was the last time you saw our friend Rachel?” or “How do you like working in the Philly office?”
8. Ask an opinion
Soliciting other people’s opinions shows you value and are interested in what they have to say. If they are familiar with the topic, many people will happily respond to your questions, and it is a perfect way to get a conversation started. When asking an opinion, choose topics relevant to the moment.
Example: “How do you like the coffee from the new cafe?” or “Are those (name brand) shoes? Are they comfortable?”
9. Praise the person
When you meet an executive or prominent person in your organization for the first time, a great way to hold a conversation with them is to praise their work.
Example: “I heard the speech you gave at the banquet last week. You made some really good points.”
Follow up the praise with questions relevant to the compliment, such as how they became such a good public speaker.
10. Show genuine interest
See if you can find a topic you know the person is passionate about. Passions can get your coworkers talking, and you can learn something new. Remember to keep the conversation friendly and positive.
Example: “I see your t-shirt says band name. Have you ever been to one of their shows?” or “I saw on the welcome email that you just moved here from Barbados. What is it like there?”
11. Ask about them
People naturally like talking about themselves. Try finding a topic that will allow the person to speak about their interests, family or experiences.
Example: ”That’s a great photo of your family on your desk, how old are your children?” or ”I heard that you recently took vacation time to visit Hawaii, how was it?”
12. Make an observation
The environment you’re in can offer many conversation starters. Commenting on the building, temperature or artwork can all be great ways to get a person talking with you.
Example: ”They did a great job decorating this office” or *”The views from this window are beautiful!”
13. Comment on the weather
If all else fails, you can always comment on the weather. It is one of the easiest ways to get someone talking and can segue into multiple other topics.
Example: “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?" or “Can you believe all the snow we’re getting?”
Ice-breakers to start a conversation
Ice breaker questions are a fun and engaging way to learn more about someone and to keep the conversation going after you’ve initiated. See examples of ice-breakers below:
- What are you currently reading?
- If you could meet any historical figure, either living or deceased, who would you choose and why?
- What’s the last film you watched? What did you like or dislike about it?
- If you could pick up a certain skill instantly, what would it be?
- What’s your favorite book?
- What is your favorite movie?
- What’s the most memorable vacation you’ve ever taken?
- What superpower would you like to have?
- Have you ever done something on your “bucket list”?
- Do you collect anything?
- If you had 25 hours in a day, what would you do with the extra hour?
- What’s your go-to karaoke song?
- If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?
- Who’s your celebrity look alike?
- What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
- Is there a certain person that has inspired your work?
- What’s the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve been given?
- If you had 25 hours in a day, what would you do with the extra hour?
- What’s your favorite indoor activity?
- Where would you most like to travel next?
What is the best topic for starting a conversation?
Since you now know how to start a conversation, it helps to know the best topics to talk about. The following topics rank among the most popular among people:
You can ask questions on relationships, siblings, children or even pets. So long as your communication skills are good and the questions are not too intimate, people will often feel proud to talk freely about their families.
This is a perfect topic for a work happy hour or a team function. It is a way to engage in small talk and learn more about a person quickly.
Example: “What kind of dog do you have?"
People are passionate about sports and will gladly share their passion. You can ask questions about their favorite teams, tournaments and sporting events.
Example: “Did you see the penalty kick the U.S. had against Portugal?"
In the age of on-demand entertainment and blockbuster TV series, entertainment is an important talking point for many people. If you ask someone about their favorite TV show or series, the chances are that they will have one or two they watch.
Example: “Have you seen the latest superhero movie?” or “Did you watch the music awards show last night?”
Being current on the latest news can help you start small talk easily with strangers and acquaintances. Whether you are a fan of traditional newspapers or follow digital alternative news media, you can always open a conversation with questions about local news, happenings in other parts of the world and others. However, it is generally best to leave political news out of the workplace.
Example: “Did you hear about that hero dog that saved a child from a fire?”
Many people take pride in talking about their job and will gladly share thoughts on the role they play in the organization. Whether you are talking to a person in your own company or someone you met recently, asking questions about their duties at work will likely inspire a response.
Example: “How do you like managing escrow accounts?”
Topics to avoid
Some topics are best to avoid when starting a conversation in the workplace. Asking questions that are too personal or sensitive can cause your relationship to get off on the wrong foot. They include:
- Salary or benefits
The key is to try to avoid any negative conversations that might make people upset. Keep your conversation starters positive, and you can start a good relationship with your coworker or colleague.
Tips for starting a conversation
Use open body language
To help the individual/s you’re engaging feel more comfortable try to smile, maintain eye contact and confident posture. You should also be attentive to others’ body language. If you can tell that they are closed off and unresponsive, it may be best to move on and respect their space. It may not be a good time for them to build a connection with someone new.
Active listening means focusing completely on the speaker. This will allow you to fully understand the information being exchanged during the conversation in order to respond thoughtfully. This will help to build trust and a relationship with the person you’re engaging with.
It can be intimidating to start a conversation in many situations. Know that the person you start the conversation with is likely appreciative of the gesture and may have been wanting to break the ice with you as well. It is natural to feel anxious or nervous when approaching a new contact, but the benefit of meeting new people and expanding your network is worth it.
Get contact information and follow up
If your conversation has gone well and it feels natural to exchange contact information, consider exchanging business cards or simply offering your email. This way, you can follow up explaining that it was a pleasure to meet them and that you are happy to continue the conversation as it makes sense. Draw on specific details from your chat to let them know you paid attention and valued meeting them.