Do you have trouble coming up with things to talk about? Maybe you’re just sick of talking about the weather? Well, a study came up with a list of 36 conversation starters that were designed to build closeness and intimacy between two people.
The study paired participants who had never met and tried to generate closeness between each pair in a 45 minute session. The researchers tested 4 variables: 1) gradually escalating reciprocal self disclosure, 2) matching participants based on agreement on issues, 3) giving participants expectations that they would like each other and 4) making closeness a goal. The researchers found that only the gradually escalating reciprocal self disclosure questions made a significant difference in perceived closeness scores taken after each 45 minute session.
The questions were based on previous research that found “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure” is a common theme among close relationships. The researchers found that participants who went through the questions not only generated significantly more perceived closeness than participants who engaged in small talk, but 57% had at least one subsequent conversation and 35% had done something together 7 weeks later. Not only that, but a pair from a previous study using a similar procedure ended up getting married!
The Conversation Starters:
So, here are the 36 questions from the study. They are designed to slowly escalate as you move down the list.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make 3 true “we” statements each. For instance ‘We are both in this room feeling … ”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … ”
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save anyone item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
So, drop the small talk and try weaving a few of these questions into conversations. A few might sound awkward to you, so just pick the ones that you like best. These conversation starters will work at the gym, on a date, pretty much anywhere.
Aron, Arthur, et al. “The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23.4 (1997): 363-377.