How to Start Conversations – Use the News to Get to Know Someone

I love newspapers. Mostly they’re filled with fluff–at least mine are. Do I really need the front page to tell me that our streets are pocked with potholes or that Aloha Stadium is a rust bucket? Nah.

But news media are endless sources of questions for conversation. An example is Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’s bong episode. FYI: if you’ve been out of the country, Michael was photographed at a party sucking on a marijuana bong. He was caught smokey-handed by an acquaintance who sold the photo to the media. It was just a cell-phone picture, but oh, the repercussions! The story circled the world faster than Michael could race across the pool.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they respond to news stories. Use Michael’s dilemma as a springboard to help you get to know someone better. Here are several questions you can use to start conversation and keep it going. More details please

How to Start the Conversation

Instead of diving headfirst into the questions, introduce the topic. This set-up allows you to talk about current events and those that aren’t current anymore. If you’re been thinking about a topic, it’s fair game for conversation. For example, you could say, “I’ve been thinking about Michael Phelps getting caught smoking pot. Remember that?” If the answer is no, you’ll need to elaborate on what happened. If the answer is yes, you’re ready to start conversation with any of these questions:

  • Did you lose respect for Michael Phelps over this issue? Why?
  • With so many evil doers flaming and blaming others, refusing to take responsibility for their actions, is it refreshing that Michael owned up to smoking pot? Do you cut him some slack because of that?
  • What’s your opinion of the person who took the picture and made a lot of money on it?
  • What makes pot smoking a big deal: its effects on the body and mind, its legalities, or something else?
  • If you were in Michael’s flippers, er, shoes, what would you learn from this mess?
  • If you were the CEO of Kelloggs or Subway, would you cancel your million-dollar endorsements with this swimming champ? Why?
  • Phelps is a hero to many youngsters. Who were your heroes when you were growing up? Did any of them do anything to fall from grace in your eyes?
  • Who are your heroes now? Tell me about them.

Remember this is a conversation, not an interview, so share your own ideas and experiences as you go along.

How to Make the Conversation Even More Personal

Here’s one more line of Michael-inspired questions that borders on snoopy. If you introduce it carefully, you could take the conversation to a deeper, more intimate, level. Here are the questions:

  • Did you ever get caught smoking pot or doing something reckless or foolish?
  • What were the consequences?
  • Did you do it again, or did you learn your lesson?

You’re more likely to get your conversation partner to open up if you share your own experience first. Here’s what that series of questions might sound like when you begin with “I statements”: “I smoked pot in college and never got busted. But when I told my dad about it, he was curious about my experience. He might even have tried pot if I’d had any. But when he told my mom, she was furious. I think she felt left out because she didn’t hear it from me. She was so judgmental, I never felt safe talking with her about it again. [pause] What about you? Did you ever smoke pot or get caught doing something reckless or foolish?”

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