5 ways to spark conversation after lockdown
The easing of lockdown has been a welcome return to normality for many, with lots of us eager to get back to hugging our family members, seeing loved ones without the presence of a screen (and all the technical glitches that involves!), and getting out and about again doing the things we love.
However, while being able to socialise again has been an exciting prospect for some, it can also be a source of anxiety for those of us who feel out of practice making casual conversation and feel our socialising skills are a little rusty. With many of our calendars not as full as they once were, it can also be easy to run out of things to talk about – or to worry that we will.
Research from the Campaign to End Loneliness has shown that many of us have found conversation more difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic has gone on, with people finding it harder to find things to spark conversation. 68% of the people surveyed said they encountered issues keeping people talking during the pandemic to some extent.
Whether you are soon to be meeting up with friends, are contemplating a new social event or are a Befriending volunteer planning a visit, here are 5 tips for keeping the conversation flowing …
Prepare in advance
Rehearsing or planning a conversation in advance might sound like it would take some of the fun and spontaneity out of socialising, but it can be a great way to help spark conversation if it lulls and to take the anxiety out of any social meeting.
If you worry that you will run out conversation, try preparing a mental list of questions or stories to share (or write these down if you think you will forget, and have a sneak peek just before you meet or during a toilet break).
Have a think about what is the most interesting thing you have done, seen or heard lately; an interesting TV programme or book you could discuss; or a story you have told before that has made someone laugh or really piqued their interest. It is also a good idea to think of some things you could ask the other person, whether it’s about their day, their hobbies, or their experience growing up.
Just knowing you have these conversation prompts to fall back on can help you feel more confident and able to relax during conversation, and you may find that you don’t need them after all!
Dig a bit deeper
While we’re not suggesting your conversation should replicate a therapy session, if you want your conversations to flow it is really important to listen carefully and respond to what is being said.
Try to ask about thoughts and feelings rather than just the facts of what is being said and what the person has done. While many of us are limited with how many activities we can take part in at the minute, it is suggested that the mind thinks between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day – so it’s likely to have had an extremely eventful lockdown, even if the rest of our bodies haven’t! You could ask how your friend felt about the documentary they just watched or book they just read, their thoughts on a conversation they had, or their feelings about the week they have just had or their upcoming plans, for example.
Open-ended questions are also your best tool when trying to keep conversation flowing. These are questions that can’t be given a “yes” or “no” answer and invite more detail, such as “What did you get up to last weekend?” or “What was the last meal you cooked?”. Try and respond to what is told to you with open-ended questions to encourage the person to tell you more about a subject or themselves, to help get to know them a little better.
Switch up the scenery
If you’re used to meeting someone in their home or garden, changing to a different location if possible can help stimulate conversation.
A new environment will automatically give you new things to talk about, such as the menu in the coffee shop or café you might be visiting, the beautiful scenery on your walk, a story about your journey to get to the venue, or even a memory of the last time you visited that place.
Being somewhere with other people about and activity going on in the background can also be a good distraction and give you a chance to gather your thoughts if conversation wanes, and will help it to feel more like a comfortable pause as you both survey your surroundings, rather than an awkward silence.
Seeing your friend in a different context and environment may also allow you see a different side to them and discover something about them you didn’t know – such as their passion for interesting teas, their knowledge of flowers and nature, or their tradition of visiting a particular place when they were growing up or first married, for example – which can help to deepen your friendship as well as give you more to talk about.
Chat over an activity
Just as venturing out to different surroundings can help take the pressure off your conversation by giving you something else to focus on, so can taking part in a hobby or pastime together so that your conversation isn’t the main activity.
If you’re not able to venture out with your friend (or don’t feel comfortable doing so just yet), you could bring an activity with you that is easily done from home or the garden, such as a board game, some baking ingredients or some seeds you could plant together, if you know your friend would be interested in this.
If you can’t think of an activity you could do together, just having a prop to stimulate conversation can help to take some of the pressure off you and make conversation flow more naturally. For instance, perhaps you could bring your dog with you on your visit or for your walk together (after checking with them it’s OK!) or take some photographs with you of a special event or holiday you could look at together. You could also ask to see some of their photographs, if this seems like something they would be happy to share with you, which is bound to give you lots to talk about.
Don’t overthink it
While preparing yourself with some conversation prompts and tools can be helpful for keeping conversation flowing, it is important to remember to also have fun and not overthink every word! Remember the point of conversation between friends is for you to share something of yourself with each other, so make sure you are bringing your real self to the conversation.
Try not to censor what you want to say or to try to think of the perfect response, and instead practise saying what is on your heart and mind and not worrying that your comments will be rejected. Treat yourself with compassion and remember what you have to say has value, and your honesty and authenticity might encourage your friend to open up too.