Do you struggle to strike up conversations with people you have only just met? Ever find yourself stuck for conversation topics when talking to someone you know well? Keeping a conversation alive can be a challenge!
Finding common interests to talk about with someone new can be a daunting prospect. Where do you start? What will happen if you have nothing in common? Meanwhile, seeing a person regularly also presents a problem for conversation. If you see someone on a daily basis - an office colleague, classmate or spouse, for instance - it can be difficult to find something new to talk about that you haven’t discussed a hundred times before!
If you find the art of small-talk challenging, but at heart would like to be more talkative, one conversational technique can help you to avoid those awkward ‘what-to-talk-about’ moments with friends, colleagues and even strangers.
The FORM method is a series of four prompts which you can use to find new lines of conversation to fill those uneasy silences. ‘FORM’ stands for Family/Friends-Occupation-Recreation-Motivation, and by using these prompts, you can get to know people better, as well as keeping your conversations alive.
1. Family and Friends
What topic do people love to talk about above all others? Family and friends will score highly on many people’s list of interests. Most people have family and friends, so get to know them better by talking about either yours or theirs.
If a person is a childhood friend or a friend of your family, you may have met their parents. Ask them how they have been? Are they still working at the same place as before? Or how are they enjoying retirement?
Does the person have any children? If so, how many do they have? How old are they? How do they like school? Do they have plenty of friends? Are they academic, or do they prefer sports? Do they have any achievements that they are proud to tell people about?
If you are familiar with your aquaintance, are they single or in a relationship? Are they married? What does their partner like to do? What does he/she think about their long shifts? Or if the person is in a relationship, are they thinking about getting engaged? How long have they been with their partner? Alternatively, if are they single, are they holding out for the ‘perfect match’?
Other friendships can also be a topic of conversation. Without sounding like too much of a ‘gossip’, you might enquire as to how a mutual friend is. How did the other person meet them? Tell them how you first got to know the person. Did you go to school together, or meet each other at work? How long has the other person known them? Do they share any interests with them?
The second topic of conversation in the FORM method is occupation, which opens up a whole range of potential work-related topics. Firstly, do you know whether the person has a job, or are they looking for work?
If the person is employed:
- What does their job involve?
- Do they enjoy their job? Does he/she find it rewarding?
- Is it in the field that they studied? If it is different, how did they come to work in their current field?
- What job did they hold previously? Why did they leave?
- How do they find the schedule? Is the job flexible, or does it involve long or inconvenient shifts?
- How do they like their colleagues?
- Are they looking for a promotion or happy in their current position?
If they don’t have a job:
- What would they like to do?
- What did the person last do for work?
- Have they found many job openings? Or is it proving difficult to arrange an interview in the current jobs market?
Common interests - from shared hobbies to supporting a particular football team - can provide us with a sense that we belong amongst a group. Shared recreational interests are also a great topic of conversation. Even if your hobbies are different to those of another person, it is always fascinating to learn about an unusual or otherwise interesting pursuit.
Whether you find yourself addicted to a TV boxset or occasionally watch a show, find out what type of shows a friend enjoys, and you may find that you have more in common than you both initially realised. What was the latest film that you (or they watched)? Was it as thrilling as you anticipated it to be? Or did you find the plot confusing? What film is your friend planning on watching next?
Sports and recent games can also be a good topic of conversation. If you play a sport, or simply enjoy watching matches when the opportunity arises, find out which sports, teams and players you both enjoy watching at play. Did they see the latest game at the weekend? What did they think to the performance of Player X? Do they have tickets to Team Y’s next game?
Does your friend enjoy music? Find out what genre of music they like, what their favorite bands are and if they attend any gigs.
The final area of conversation using the FORM technique is motivation. However ambitious or small, we each have our own goals and desires that drive our behavior. Find out from your conversation partner their motivations.
What were their childhood dreams? What drives them to live the lifestyle that they currently have? Do they have any aspirations? Would they like to go back to university to study? Are they aiming to get a promotion by the end of the year? Why do they enjoy the hobbies that they do? Are they looking to get married? Or even start a family?
Each of these areas provide a plethora of potential topics for conversation. You may wish to use them when looking for common ground with colleagues at work. The FORM method can also help you to maintain a testing conversation when you are both struggling to make small-talk.