At one point in their life, everyone has had awkward silence during a conversation that died out. It could have been with a family member, friend, crush, anyone. Here are some tips on how to keep a conversation going.
1. Ask open-ended questions
Close-ended questions invite only two possible answers: yes or no.
Examples of open-ended questions:
What have you been up to today?
What did you do at school today?
What’s your ideal kind of weather?
Close-ended questions aren’t always bad! However, if you have a hard time getting a conversation going, you can try to ask an open-ended question every once in a while.
2. Ask follow-up questions
To show that you actually care about how someone answers your questions, follow up with further questions. When our conversations die out, it’s usually because we don’t come off as sincere and interested enough.
You: “What have you been up to today?”
Them: “School, mainly.”
You [Follow up]: “How’s school going for you at the moment?”
Them: “Well. I think it’s going…” (Your friend is more motivated to give a longer answer as you’ve asked a follow-up question, and this keeps the conversation going)
3. Balance between sharing and asking questions
To find a good balance between sharing and asking questions, you can try the IFR-method.
IFR stands for:
Inquire – Ask a sincere question
Follow-up – Ask a follow-up question
Relate – Share something about you to break up your questions and keep the conversation balanced
You [inquire]: What’s your ideal kind of weather?
Your friend: Hmm, I think around 65 so I don’t sweat.
You [follow-up]: So living here in FL must be way too warm for you?
Your friend: Yeah, I use the AC a lot!
You [relate]: I like it when it’s hot but only on holidays. On workdays, I like it cool so I can think better.
Now, you can repeat the sequence by inquiring again:
You [inquire]: Does the heat make you drowsy?
After they’ve replied, you can follow up, relate, inquire, and so on.
4. Imagine the other person as a timeline
To get a conversation going, visualize a timeline. Your goal is to fill in the blanks. The middle is “now,” which is a natural point to start the conversation. So you start talking about the very moment you’re in, then work your way back and forth along the timeline.
A natural conversation ripples away from the current moment into both the past and the future. It can start off with a few banal comments about how the food you’re eating at dinner is nice and can end up conversing about dreams or childhood.
Questions about the present moment
“How do you like the salmon rolls?”
“Do you know the name of this song?”
Questions about the near future
“What kind of work do you do/what are you studying? How do you like it?”
“What are you going to do during your visit here in [place]?”
“How was your trip here?”
Questions about the medium and long-term future
“What are your plans when it comes to…?”
“Is work busy, or do you get any time off? Do you have any plans for your next vacation?”
“Where are you originally from? How come you moved?”
5. Be genuinely interested
Don’t ask for the sake of asking questions – ask them so you can get to know someone and to find commonalities!
Here’s how to get a conversation going: show a genuine interest in people. When you do, they’ll be much more motivated to share and to ask sincere questions about you, too.
Source: Crystal Raypole (2019), How To (Really) Get To Know Someone; Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-get-to-know-someone#real-questions.