Eleanor Roosevelt and the Art of Conversation


Not everyone has the gift of gab.

And most people don’t consider themselves a captivating storyteller. That’s okay. In fact, it’s better if most people aren’t “the life of the party.” Can you imagine 17 people each attempting to out-do one another to be the life of the party?

However, most people desire to have quality interactions in their life – and just about everyone enjoys a good conversation.  And, because conversation and communication are so central to relationship and relationship is central to quality of life, you can imagine how inspired we were when we read this gem of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: 

"Small minds discuss people,

average minds discuss events,

great minds discuss ideas.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Inspiring, yes. But this is also one of those quotes that can be quite confronting. So we thought it would be fun to reflect on the art of conversation and offer strategies for keeping conversations idea-centric.

1.  Food, Food, Food

Since everyone eats food – and just about everyone enjoys the magic of what happens over food – it’s a great topic for conversation. Whether it’s a regular family meal or a restaurant outing with friends, food is a great idea-centric conversation topic. Example: What restaurants have you tried lately? Are you a regular anywhere?

These questions are not about ideas, per se. But it’s easy to see how the answers to these questions can lead to idea-centric conversation topics. For instance, when Tiny Diner opened in 2014 with an emphasis on permaculture, the conversation about this restaurant easily led to a conversation about ideas for sustainability, our favorite cities, and the amazing things happening in Minneapolis. Other questions that are food related: Where is the grocery store in your part of town? What was the last home-cooked meal you had?

Food is a great conversation topic for discussing ideas. 

2.  Talk about passions and interests (but not work).

More and more that the topic of work is becoming more taboo. “What do you do for a living?” is starting to feel like it puts people in a position that might have them compared to others in the conversation. Work and vocation are very closely connected meaning and purpose as well as monetary income and social status – so much of which is out of our control.

Besides, more and more people are finding their passion outside of work and what is more interesting than hearing about someone’s passion? Instead of asking, “What do you do?”, here is a better question: “How do you spend your time?”  

Food and work passion are two examples of how to take everyday topics and get into the realm of ideas. Here are a seven more questions you can ask just about anyone to keep the conversation alive and strong. 

Seven More Idea-Centric Topics

In addition to food, food, food and a new way to ask work/passion, here are seven questions to you can ask just about anyone:

3.    What’s keeping you inspired these days?

4.    Where do you live?

5.    Tell me more about that. (Not so much a question as it is a reaction – use this when you don’t know how to reply to something someone said. Seriously, this one works like a charm, especially when it feels like you’re into a corner.)

6.    What are you reading?

7.    What are you looking forward to?

8.    Where will your next adventure be taking you?

9.    What is something you want more of and what is something you want less of?

Use these questions in the very next conversation you have. That might be later today – or sometime tomorrow. It might be online via email or in-person. Try one of these out and see what kind of ideas you discover.  

This blog post is adapted from the 10 Day Friendraiser Challenge. Sign up and start today.  

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