The Millennial's Guide To Starting A Conversation With Anyone

Photographed by Alice Gao.
As a kid, making friends seemed so easy. Back then you could base an entire relationship on a shared passion for sour Gushers. But now that we're (supposedly) all grown-up and moving or starting new jobs, we're learning just how hard it can be to simply start a conversation IRL.

"Millennials dismiss small talk as superficial and boring," says Sharon Schweitzer of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, "But small talk, along with eye contact, is an essential part of social interaction."
And then once you actually start a conversation, there's the challenge of keeping it going. (No one enjoys an awkward lull.) "All of us — especially millennials — want to be intrigued, but we forget that we need to put in some work too," adds Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. "If people are counting the seconds until they can get rid of you, then you're not authentically doing your job."

If that seems like a difficult job to do, you're not alone. In honor of National Make A Friend Day, we're serving you up some tips for mastering the art of conversation like an adult, courtesy of Gottsman and Schweitzer.
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At A Party
Hopefully you don't need too much help chatting with people who are already your friends. But that can be a more difficult task if you're at a party where you don't know anyone or you only remember these people from the last party you were at together.

In situations like this, it might be tempting to stay away from the classically taboo subject of politics, but Gottsman says bringing it up (sensitively, of course) will reveal how informed you really are. She suggests questions that keep your position neutral but still let you get into current events. You could start it off with something like, "What are you finding interesting about the debates?"

Another option is to talk tech, Gottsman says. For instance, asking about the apps on someone's phone or their favorite Pinterest pages can tell you a lot about that person's priorities. Plus, these days, our phones are something we all have in common. Talking about the apps we use daily is kind of like the modern, more interesting version of bringing up the weather.

We want to be intrigued, but we forget that we need to put in some work too.

Diane Gottsman
At Work
Whether you're going in for an interview or just starting a new job, learning how to converse with your coworkers takes some serious tact. And your first impressions — the ones you give and the ones you get — can make a huge difference. "Millennials know within a month whether they’re going to stay at a job," says Schweitzer, "so those early conversations and impressions are important."

"At a business event, you can ask specific questions," says Gottsman, "like, 'How did you get into this field?' Or, 'Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?'" People may have very different paths to getting to the same place, so it could payoff to learn more about others' journeys. And in an interview or event situation, asking someone for their advice never fails to flatter.
On A Date
Schweitzer says there are two topics that tell you a ton about the person you're on a date with: food and travel. But the key is to move on from just asking about their favorite meals or their dream destinations. Instead, she suggests asking about what kind of food enthusiast or traveler that person is.

Does your date go to the same four spots every week in their neighborhood or have a favorite dish to make at home? Or, on a trip, does your date like to stick to the city or head out on a zip-lining adventure? "You learn a whole lot more that way," says Schweitzer. And Gottsman says those cooking questions can sneakily lead into invitations like, "I can teach you how to make this — I'd love to have you over sometime."

Questions that tap into your date's nostalgia are also a good bet, says Gottsman. For instance, something like, "Who did you admire when you were growing up?" allows that person to reminisce and gives you a peek into what kinds of qualities they'd like to build in themselves. Schweitzer also suggests, "What was your favorite thing about where you grew up?" to tap into that feel-good nostalgia.
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