The dinner table isn’t just a place to sit down and refuel. It’s the center of family discussion, a place to reconnect with friends and family and a catalyst for social cohesion. And one of the joys of sitting down to dinner with friends and family is the anticipation of good conversation.
Unfortunately, creative, witty and intelligent dinner conversation is an art that is on the wane. In this day and age of take out, fast food and eating in front of the television, people have lost the need and ability for enlightening talks over the course of a good meal. Learning this art will not only serve you well in professional and social situations, it will enhance your own enjoyment of life and improve the enjoyment of those around you.
Part of my Slow Down Fast work-life balance initiative involves being more available and in touch with those who mean most to us. Put simply, this means sharing in each other’s lives and exchanging good thoughts – both with family, and our friends.
To that end, here are seven topics, conversational openers and easy dinner ideas that will improve your dinner-table discussions.
1. “I’ve just read a very interesting book/story.”
Talk about an interesting book or story you’ve read, or ask if someone else would like to do the same. This is a great way to initiate deep and interesting conversations. Of course, this means you’ll need to maintain a habit of reading interesting and discussion-worthy publications, a practice that will benefit you in innumerable ways, both at and away from the dinner table.
2. “Tell me about your most memorable day(s).”
Everyone has them – remarkable, amazing days that stand out in our memories. Maybe it yours is the day your first child was born. Or the day you made your first sale. Or maybe it’s a day like any other, except that everything was absolutely perfect. Knowing what makes for a memorable day for someone gives you valuable and interesting insight into their goals, personalities, their values and their perspectives. And those are always worth talking about.
3. “How have you made a difference in the world?”
This question can be used in several different ways. You can ask it as a provocative conversational opener. You can use it as a way to get to know a friend or family member better. Or, by adding “this week” or “today” to the end of the sentence and using it as a regular dinner-table discussion for your family, it is a powerful tool for instilling thoughtfulness, consideration and a bigger worldview in children and other family members.
4. “If you were in charge, how would you deal with _____?”
Fill in the blank with a current event, news story or other similar subject. This is a great topic for getting into a discussion of change and the dynamics of social change. It also fosters empowered and solution-oriented thinking, instead of complaints and “somebody ought to do something” attitudes within your group. Ramp up the discussion by appointing someone to play Devil’s Advocate to the various answers.
5. “What legacy would you like to leave?”
This question can be a lot of fun, but it is also thought provoking and useful for learning more about others and how they see themselves in the world. It can be easily rephrased for talking with children to get them thinking about who they are and who they want to be in the world.
6. “If you had a million dollars, but you couldn’t spend it on yourself, what would you do?”
This is also a lot of fun, and it can also be used to spark discussions about helping others. Or, it can simply be a cool way to spend dinner. Or both.
7. “If you could be given the answer to any one question, what would it be? Why?”
The best way to get to really know someone is to know what they hunger for, what answers they seek but can’t find and what topics they ascribe such importance to. And the second part of the question can provide hours of additional discussion; so be warned – you may find yourself requiring several courses to get through this one.