How to Be a Better Conversationalist: Questions to Avoid

February 18, 2019

Learn how to be a great conversationalist by avoiding these questions.

There is one thing that kills all conversations, before they can even start: social scripts.

What’s a social script?

They begin with asking questions people have been asked hundreds of times before, which lead to "social script" answers people have recited hundreds of times before. Classic example of a boring question that leads to a social script answer – “Where are you from?”.

Terrible. Awful. The worst.

“Social scripts are totally mindless,” Vanessa Van Edwards said in her LinkedIn Learning course, Creating Great First Impressions.  “You could've had them in your sleep, which means you aren't really listening and you sound bored with your own answers. Social scripts are the enemy of being memorable.”

Relax though – we are here to free you from social scripts forever. And that really comes down to asking better questions.

LinkedIn Learning Instructor Vanessa Van Edwards explains how to be a great conversationalist.

3 Questions That Kill Conversations

What are examples of questions that lead to social script answers, which suck all the energy from any exchange?

There are several. But, according to Van Edwards, the three most common in a work situation are:

  • “How are you?” I mean, come on. This barely warrants a response.
  • “What do you do?” A go-to at a work event, but there are better ways to get to this same answer.
  • “Where are you from?” Another boring go-to, and again, there are better ways to find out with a much more interesting question.

If you want to be a great conversationalist, its best to avoid these questions.

Questions That Lead to Better Conversations

Okay, we got through the easy part – what not to ask. But what should you ask, instead?

The key, according to Van Edwards, is asking questions that trigger excitement. Here are questions that do exactly that:

  • “What's the best thing that happened to you today?” or “What’s been the highlight of your week?” Instead of getting the immediate “good” that comes with asking “how are you?”, this question forces the person to reflect and usually results in an interesting story. Maybe they just completed a cool project. Or their son just got into a good school. Or maybe just lunch was great. Either way, you already are getting into much more interesting topics.
  • "Do you have any vacations coming up?" Similar – "Have any good shows you are watching?" Nothing gets people more excited than talking about their upcoming vacation or the TV show they can’t stop binging.
  • "Working on any passion projects recently?" Again, stokes excitement, although arguably even better in a work context because keeps it focused on work, too. This is such a better question to ask than “what do you do?”, while garnering the same information.

You’ll notice a theme with these questions – they focus on the good. They get the person talking about what they are really excited about, which brings a higher level of energy to the conversation.

Pro tip from Van Edwards – “I encourage you to have your own great answers to all the sparkers I shared above. Why? Just in case you ask someone a question and they need a minute to think of the answer, you can pop in with yours.”

A Challenge: Go on a (Social Script) Diet

Let’s end this post with a challenge.

For the next month, don’t ask any of the three questions listed at the top of the article, which lead to boring social script answers. Instead, force yourself to get creative with what you ask – you’ll immediately become a better conversationalist.

“One of the most important social skills is being able stimulate fascinating conversations with everyone you meet,” Van Edwards said in her course. “But being a master conversationalist requires one big talent, the ability to break social scripts.”

Want to learn more? Watch Vanessa Van Edward’s full course, Creating Great First Impressions.

Topics within the LinkedIn Learning course include how to: