Monday, September 13, 2010

Manners Monday: Conversation Topics to Avoid

Welcome back to the Manners Monday series! Today I'll be sharing how we relate to others-particularly strangers and acquaintances whether it be at a party or a work function as it pertains to topics of conversation.

During the summer I've had the opportunity to attend several parties, backyard BBQ's and other events. With such events comes the meeting of new people, often friends of friends. While some might want to pour their heart out to a friend over recent events in our life, we must refrain from doing so with those that we've just met. In addition, there are many great conversation starters and various topics that are completely acceptable, on the contrary there are also many to steer clear of as well.

I want to begin on a positive note, here are some great topics to focus on as you are newly introduced to someone or engage in conversation with strangers.

If you're being introduced, hopefully the host will have mentioned something that he/she knew you had in common. If that isn't the case, one of the best ways to begin a conversation at an event is to ask how they know the host or person being honored at the event. You can never go wrong here since you already have something in common by being in the same place, and it is bound to open the door to more commonality that you can branch off of.

Begin by asking other questions, avoid talking all about yourself out of nervous habit. Be aware of questions that are very personal such as health or relationship troubles, status, etc. Instead, you can ask about a new movie, tv show, a new restaurant in the area, local happenings or compliment them on something you truly admire such as their shoes or handbag. I don't know anyone that doesn't enjoy a genuine compliment and it is bound to start a conversation in the direction of something you are both interested in.

The particular mood of the event should match the tone of conversation. If you're at a funeral, that is not the best time to talk about your date the night before or your upcoming trip to the Caribbean. On the flip side, if you're at a lively party, it is not a good time to discuss the details of your divorce or the death of a loved one.

When you are conversing in  a group, it is important to let everyone have a turn to speak but also to speak about topics that everyone can enjoy. Speaking to a group of 6 about something that only you and one of your colleagues can relate too is a sure way to not only bore the group but make them feel like outsiders.

"Conversation is the art of never appearing a bore, of knowing how to say everything interestingly, to entertain with no matter what, to be charming with nothing at all."

~Guy de Maupassant

6 Topics to be Mindful Of:

1. Sex-Although there are many people of all ages who feel completely comfortable sharing their escapades with perfect strangers, it can be perceived by many as inappropriate and distasteful. What one finds completely acceptable, another might view as being completely disgusting. It's best to keep this topic under wraps. It's also a good idea to avoid discussing adultery or making comments and gossiping about couples that you know of who are in that predicament. You never know if someone else may know someone you know. Besides, gossiping is just not classy.

2. Money- Among close friends and in private, this isn't as much of a faux pas but in the company of strangers, discussing money has a tendency to make others feel uncomfortable. For someone that doesn't have much of it, they might start to feel inadequate and it will cause them to now focus on it instead of enjoy their surroundings. Also, the person discussing it will just come across as materialistic which is never a good quality in anyone. It is never acceptable to ask anyone how much they earn likewise, it is best to leave the details of your salary out of the equation.  If you want to ask a trusted friend to compare and ensure you are being paid what you are worth, do so privately, not in the company of others. Even then, your friend might not be interested in divulging that information so use discretion there. Again, avoid idle gossip or discussing the financial situation of others. This happens a lot in families and in circles of friends but it truly is none of anyone else's business.

3. Religion- This topic should probably come as no surprise, but I'm still amazed at the amount of people that feel the need to push their opinions and religious practices on others, especially complete strangers! A person's faith is a personal decision and nobody should be made to feel bad about it. There are those that truly do have more interest and questions rather than than comments, but asking the same person mulitple questions could start to feel like they are on trial and they may not want to be subject to that line of questioning and being responsible to represent a whole faith group. This is especially true if this same religion has been recently under attack in the media. While you don't need to avoid it completely, it's best to tread lightly with this one unless you are at church with others that share your same beliefs.

4. Health Issues- We all discuss health at some point-eating better, choosing organic, how to avoid x,y, or z. But aside from your close friends or your physician, it's best to keep this topic to a minimum. Avoid all conversation around extended illness and surgeries. It can be a depressing topic that doesn't do much in the way of maintaining an upbeat environment. If you're at an event surrounding food or at a party, it is best to avoid speaking on anything pertaining to this topic, you wouldn't want to turn someone off of food for the evening.

5. Politics-A favorite conversation of many that often gets carried away and can greatly offend others. It is best to avoid asking strangers which political party they support, who they are going to vote for and/or why. While often deep and lively, conversation around politics can stir some great debates and  can leave a few feeling attacked if not handled carefully.

Conversations around politics are usually best brought up around friends or close family members that know how you feel and won't be offended by your personal stance as they you know it is just a debate rather than attack on their personal character if you don't share the same political interest.

6. Family & Siblings- This last one might come as a bit of a surprise, however you'd be amazed at the amount of people that have had sibling rivalries, grew up with a sibling that was the 'favorite' or had less-than-wonderful memories of their childhood upbringing as it pertains to their parents. When asked about their extended family or if they have any siblings, it could bring up a lot of negative emotions and unresolved issues that they may not be prepared to discuss. It is best to avoid asking this topic unless they bring it up. Likewise, asking a married couple if/when they plan on having children might seem completely innocent but could bring up feelings of inadequacy and sadness if they are having difficulty conceiving.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I thougtht I'd share a really neat gift-giving idea which is great as a conversation starter during dinner and house parties. Table Topics is a company offers numerous decks of cards that are great for parties or the dinner table. I also thought these placecards were a neat and affordable option too.This would also make a fun DIY project/gift for someone too by using fun cardstock designs and creating your own conversation questions.

As with all topics in the Manners Monday series, this is  by no means a complete list, but my hope is that it may help you think about topics of conversation in a new way or serves as a little refresher. What topics of conversation do discuss with perfect strangers or new acquaintances? Which ones do you completely avoid and why?

I'd love to hear your personal experiences and what YOU have to say, leave a comment and let us know! :)



  1. What a great blog!

    Have a nice time!

  2. Hi Karla, I always follow you, 'cause your blog is classy, funny and very interesting for me!!! I've grabbed your button,too! I work with etiquette and "Galateo",here in Rome, and I absolutely agree with your topics!!!
    Kisses and come and visit me, if you'd lke to!

  3. Hello Karla,

    I've just found your blog and I like it very much. It is good to know the topics to avoid in conversations. But could you please recommend some topics that we (women) can talk about, especially when we meet new people for the first time. Thank you!

  4. You're right that local events are safe and interesting ground! We have had an eventful few weeks in our immediate area (a sewage spill and small airplane crash to name just two) and, at a recent neighborhood ice cream party, we all had plenty to discuss without straying into politics or religion!


Thanks for stopping by, your comments make my day! I read every single one and will answer any questions you have. I hope you'll visit again soon! :)


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