Conversation Topics

Generic Conversations
In this earlier post, I lamented how most conversations are superficial, with no participant exposing their opinions or experiences which could be revealing or controversial.  Superficial conversations are what grease society and useful, of course, but when that is all we do and opportunity for deep or personal conversations are reflexively avoided, I think we error.

In this post I made another complaint about those who steel conversation.  There I note that most conversations are not dialogues but instead, merely coordinated monologues with each person just waiting to steal the conversation to start up their monologue again – only pretending to listen (though they’d never want to imagine themselves that way).

In this post, I have experimented  with a diagram to illustrate the common topics of conversation.   These are neither bad or good topics, but the common one.  If people are having conversations about these topics where they can be personal, exploring the statements of others, instead of stealing and try to be open, they can be wonderful.  But they are often just mechanical monologues of sorts.

Note that in my diagram I have divided topics by both age and gender.  You will notices that topics change as we get older (kids talk about music, old folks about their grandchildren), and gender (though we all share many topics, each sex has its tendency toward specialties: women like clothes and shopping talks, men like sports).

In my next post I will give an example of a conversation I had this week that illustrates several of these issues: monologues, conversation stealing and topic by age (which is what inspired this post).  But meanwhile, let me know what you think I have forgotten or gotten wrong in my diagram. Thank you to Anna and Paul’s comments that have helped me in updating this post so far.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Conversation Topics

  1. rautakyy

    I recognize myself as a person who sometimes “steals the conversation”, it is not deliberate though. I usually end up doing something like that when I think I have something valuable to add to the topic.

    Conversations are, after all, a rather fluid way of communication. It is not like everybody entering has agreed to stick to a specific topic, nor is there usually some authority present to decide what falls under the subject topic and what does not.

    Once more I fringe here on the limit of your post topic, by bringing up the subject, that we have this stereotype of Finns having no culture of “small talk”, that is to say, we do not deliberately try to awoid superficial topics in our conversations, but down deep we are culturally inclined to see such as revealing a level of small mindedness. Thus we rather shut up for a while to think something worthwhile to say. In conversations with a lot of people from different cultures (especially the Indo-Europeans) our silent moments, within a conversation situation, seem to cause some amount of distress.

    Did I just try to steal the conversation?

  2. Peter

    When you get to 60, it seems like all the conversations are about health or more specifically about “my latest set of tests, treatments, doctor’s visits” etc. this topic is excruciatingly boring for a person who has taken the trouble to learn about health and nutrition and takes regular exercise.

  3. Peter

    I have found from experience that about 30% of people are not capable of expressing any opinion or anecdote the relates to or amplifies or complements my statements. These people have a default conversational setting I call “auto oppose”. This is an extremely tiresome setting whereby they just disagree with every statement another person makes. 😫

  4. @ rautakyy,
    Yes, though your stealing may not be deliberate,
    it is nontheless something that would be wise to curtail
    no matter how you rationalize it to yourself
    Stealers ALL feel they have something valuable to offer to the conversation.
    They always think themselves more important than others.
    That is their disease.

    You are right, there is no agreement on the rules of conversation
    so it is a chance to make yourself, who you want to be.
    Each time you steal, you become a little different.
    What do you think?

    @ Peter,
    30%, that is pretty good, I find about 90% won’t respond to their conversation partners statements. And if they do at all, it is only one brief comment, never a question. Instead, they are faking polite before they pull it back to themselves.

  5. hypercryptical

    Sabio, please note, I did visit your links in this post yesterday, but am only responding today, as thus follows.
    Although agreeing with most of your observations re the content of conversation, as in most is superficial, I would suggest that superficial conversation is what makes society work, as in belonging to and sharing information with our tribe (for we are surely tribal). Although I enjoy deep discussions with others, I would not see the need for same re minor events, say, in which we share our day with our spouse. More of this later, perhaps…
    I do think your diagram shows (your own) gender bias as in your women (only) section. Jeez – you must know some vacuous women, although that said, I certainly know some vacuous men.
    A personal observation – as a female of course – re the biased and somewhat pejorative label of gossip: Working as a health professional as you do, I am certain you will know that hospitals etc are a hotbed of bitchiness and must know that much bitchiness is spouted out of the mouths of men.
    Therein lays the problem with the descriptive ‘gossip’ label so readily stuck on the forehead of women – by men. In the male mind, men ‘discuss’ whereas women ‘gossip’ and I would contend that each are interchangeable between the sexes, and many a brave man with whom I have discussed this, has stated that they regard their own sex as the cruelest, the bitchiest if you like.
    As last night I read several of your posts here, I plan to email you in the near future, as your opinions interest me and are worthy of discussion. I might even send you a recipe… :o]
    Kind regards
    Anna :o]

  6. @ Anna,
    (1) I agree that superficial talk helps make societies work. I am not criticizing the habit of superficial talk, but the inability of many to escape it and make conversation, me-me-me and to not learn of the other. It is not controversy I am pushing for at all. It is understanding the other and forgetting yourself occasionally.
    (2) Funny, I have had may women agree on the “gossip” label, over many years. But perhaps they are buy-ins to male chauvinism, I will have to consider. So if you have different suggestions for the three categories, please tell me. Or do you feel the whole enterprise is a mistake?
    (3) If you have opinions on posts, please don’t email me, but address on the post. Thank you.

  7. hypercryptical

    Thank you for your response.
    1) I take your first point and would agree with it. It is true that I also agree that ?often conversations are ‘stolen’ and become (the others) me-me-me, this particularly annoying when attempting to relate a ‘my’ story – this would be a story with emotional content due to a given situation. With a background in psychiatry (as a nurse) I tend to see this ‘stealing’ as an attempt to empathise, and maybe I do it myself at times, not quite sure… Nevertheless it is very annoying. I tend to be pleasantly frank when this ‘stealing’ occurs, thanking for the attempt to understand but asking: Please can I finish my story?
    Maybe you have covered the next irritation and I have forgotten, due to reading so many of your posts. This irritation being when attempting to converse above the superficial, I am (sometimes) met with a vacant look and an absence of response, this behaviour not unique to either gender… Ignorance is bliss or maybe I am boring.
    2) My personal opinion is that the (graph) enterprise is a mistake, purely because it is your (gender-based) opinion and therefore biased- not true research then! I cannot give an accurate opinion or dispute your MEN section – as I am not a man, and this part of the graph is based on your experiences, which may or may not be the experience of all men. That said, I doubt whether it is the opinion of all men for our conversations deal with who we are, our nature and nurture, our IQ and so much more. Your shared is probably pretty accurate as this is what we do. It is your WOMEN section that makes my blood boil! It does not reflect me or any woman I know, although I do accept that some women and indeed some men are pretty vacuous, this again dependent on whom we are, nature and nurture, etc. Your graph depicts women as the ideal Stepford Wives and nothing more. I find it pretty insulting.
    3) Interesting response! I would suggest you read your own contact section… It is so that my intention is to respond (in private) to something that appears in your second blog, but maybe the same rules do not apply there – but then they don’t seem to apply here either!

    Anna :o]

  8. Peter

    I have been attending a week-long training session and have been forced into small talk with new fellow students of all ages. Many were quite interesting in fact! One water cooler conversation (literally beside the water cooler) was amazing!

    I met a young woman who had completed a PhD on the breeding of homosexual sheep. The thesis (proven) was that homosexuality in sheep is genetically transmitted, not learnt. She had previously worked as a sexual therapist and recounted one particularly salacious client story (sorry cannot repeat details here).

    On another occasion this last week I listened intently as two of my tennis buddies, a vet and a psychiatrist shared technical details on how they castrated horses and applied ECT treatment to their patients, also comparing these treatments with those of prisoners on death row and realising they all use the same drugs. These were fascinating discussions and as a layman I was rapt in both cases to have wonderful detailed discussions with high level medical professionals.

    It is good to complain about boring conversations (indeed, most of them are) because every now and again you just might find detailed, salacious, “out of school” reality-based sharing. This is the type of conversation I really like. They were short but oh so fascinating for me since they gave me an insight into another person’s professional world.

  9. Peter

    BTW I find myself moving towards a gossipy style of conversation. I have found that gossip is a bit like tweeting but you can still cover some interesting areas. With gossip there is a kind of reciprocal sharing of scraps of information – I like to be very detailed and factual when chatting with other people – like how old is your son/daughter, where does she go to school, what in she interested in. What grades did she get etc I think that this partly a cultural thing – some SE Asians like to be really gossipy and want to know ALL the details.

  10. @ Anna

    (1) Added to Middle
    I think men and women, in general, have different favorite conversation styles. Do you agree? Sure, individual differences are huge. My chart shows a huge middle ground that BOTH men and women hold. The other two parts are just some specific stuff. But I think I should put “gossip” in the middle, as you said. So I have done that. I hope that helps, without scrapping my chart — even though you think my “enterprise is a mistake” because of including gender. You are wrong, there is lots of research on difference of content between genders in their conversations. My chart may not be accurate, but the idea is correct. You are wrong about how my chart shows women — I think you overlooked the shared middle ground.

    (2) Stealing and Probing
    Even more than just stealing, that annoys me, is the total lack of exploring what others say.

    (3) Thank you for your comment about my “Contact” tab. I have changed it. I hope it is a bit more consistent now.

  11. @ Peter
    fascinating about homosexual sheep, psychiatry and gossip == you sound like you explore conversations well.
    BTW, I was not complaining of “boring” conversations, or as Anna also mistook, “superficial” conversations, I was complaining about conversations with no listening and exploring of the other — one-way monologues and conversation stealing. But I must not have written well if you both misunderstood me. I must re-examine my post and re-write.
    I will go try to correct some stuff now.

  12. I would make “clothes” start younger for women, and I would superimpose “science” on the “sports” section. I know a number of men, myself included, who are a lot better at science small talk than they are with sports chatting.

  13. I would say women like to talk about the exploits and achievements of their younger relatives, even if they are childless. I also think that women do engage in small talk about politics but tend to focus on local rather than international. Is this “gossip”? If you are in a very small town, I guess could be one and the same.

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