Conversation is an art. And speaking personally, it’s one I have yet to master.
Don’t get me wrong, I can hold a conversation with most people on a variety of different topics. At the same time, I’m not exactly Oscar Wilde, throwing out witty quips and making people want nothing more than to spend more time listening to me.
Still, I have learned some tricks to conversation – even if it’s only what to avoid.
And it’s true that there are some topics that are best avoided in conversation.
If you often find that the things you talk about can cause a conversation to fall flat, it might be time to look at your choices.
Because if you bring up the things on this list, the people you are talking to are probably secretly judging you for it.
1) What’s wrong with other people
No one likes a complainer.
The thing is, conversation is a fluid thing, and it can be hard to establish firm and fast rules. Sometimes, you can complain in a way that’s funny or relatable for other people, and it can make for good conversation.
However, far more often, complaining about the actions of other people will just make you seem like you’re whining.
Nobody wants to hear constant negativity. While it’s okay now and then to complain about someone who cut you off in traffic or someone who was rude to you at the grocery store, if you are always complaining about what other people do, no one is going to want to talk to you for very long.
2) Tall tales
What I mean by this is stories from your life that may or may not be completely true.
Sometimes, you’re telling people about something you’ve experienced, and you don’t get the reaction you want. And when that happens, it can be tempting to exaggerate or embellish the story to make it more interesting.
But people soon figured this out.
You might get away with it once or twice. But if you always have outrageous stories of things that happen to you, it stops being believable.
Eventually, people won’t trust a word you say, and they won’t want to talk to you very much after that.
3) Your sex life
This is a classic. However, like many of the rules on this list, there is some nuance.
With very close friends, it’s fine to talk about sex if that’s the kind of relationship you have.
But in more general company, your sex life is a topic that is best avoided.
I was once having lunch at a grocery store deli counter when I overheard a woman at the table next to me sharing some extremely graphic details with her friend of what her husband did to her the previous night.
Now, maybe she had that kind of close relationship with her friend. But she certainly didn’t with me. And hearing such intimate information about someone I didn’t even know made me extremely uncomfortable.
Plus, sex stories can easily backfire. If they are good, it can seem like you’re bragging. If they are bad, it can come off as if you’re complaining.
Basically, this is a tricky topic best avoided unless you know your audience is receptive to it.
4) How great you are
On the other hand, it’s not just tales of your raunchy sex life that can irritate the people you’re talking to.
Bragging is one of the quickest ways to turn people off while having a conversation. No one likes someone who is constantly talking about their own achievements and success, because it can start to feel like they are trying to make others feel insecure about themselves.
Psychologist Susan Whitbourne argues that often, bragging reflects the insecurity of the braggart as they try to make themselves seem better than they really are in the eyes of others.
But that doesn’t make you any more endearing to other people if you keep showing off in conversation.
5) How inadequate you are
At the same time, it’s possible to be too down on yourself.
A little self-deprecating humor can easily endear you to other people. And it can even be a sign of higher than normal emotional intelligence.
But there’s a difference between occasionally making fun of yourself and constantly emphasizing your worst traits.
Nobody likes someone who brags. But it’s also a downer to be around someone who lacks self-confidence and is overly critical of themselves.
Even if you mean it as a joke, it may be better to stay away from these kinds of conversational topics.
6) How much you’ve suffered
We all have stories. The world can be a tough place, and nobody gets through life without at least a few bad things happening to them.
On the other hand, constantly focusing on how you’ve been wronged can make it seem like you have a victim complex.
Here’s the thing: we all have misfortunes, but someone with a victim mentality refuses to take responsibility for anything that happens to them.
Also, victims take everything that happens personally. If it rains outside, it’s only doing it to ruin their hair. If they stub their toe on a piece of furniture, it’s somebody’s fault for putting the furniture there in the first place.
As you can probably imagine, this is not a very fun person to be around.
So if your conversational go-to is to talk about your misfortunes and sufferings, don’t be surprised if people secretly judge you for it.
7) Relating everything back to you
You might think that sharing experiences can help you relate to other people. And sometimes, it can.
On the other hand, you need to be wary of relying on this conversational strategy to help you connect with others. Because often, it can backfire.
If somebody shares experience with you, it’s fine to mention if you have had the same experience. But don’t then hijack the conversation to talk about yourself.
Ultimately, people like other people who they feel are listening to them. If you manage to bring every story back to you, it makes people feel like you aren’t hearing what they are saying.
8) Politics and religion
These days, we are all supposed to have an opinion on everything.
Personally, I blame social media. By giving us all a platform, it has made us all think that our opinions matter, even on subjects we have next to no knowledge of.
Once upon a time, it was considered bad manners to talk about politics and religion, and that’s still a good guideline today.
The thing about these topics is that they stir up a lot of passion. Often, people’s religious and political beliefs can form part of their identity.
In other words, by disagreeing with their beliefs, you are attacking who they are as a person.
That’s why people often get defensive about politics and religion. And that’s why it’s usually better to avoid the subject unless you are talking with people you know extremely well.
9) Personal finances
Believe it or not, money can be another sensitive issue when it comes to conversation.
Personally, I have no trouble telling my friends how much money I make, whether it’s a little or a lot. But not everyone feels the same way.
To some people, questions of how much money they make are extremely private.
Plus, this is another area where bragging can creep in. If you make a lot of money, mentioning that fact to make people feel like you’re showing off.
There’s a reason doctors have to keep strict confidentiality about their patients.
You may not have a problem sharing the details of your health problems with others. But that doesn’t mean they want to hear them.
For example, I’m quite squeamish about human body. Hearing a blow-by-blow recap of your recent surgery is liable to make someone like me lose their lunch.
11) Gossip about others
Let’s be honest: gossip can be fun. And sharing stories about a mutual acquaintance such as a bad boss can actually help people bond.
But gossip can be a very dangerous thing. It can cause A lot of harm to people’s reputations and mental health if they find out they are being gossiped about.
Plus, gossiping about others makes you seem untrustworthy. After all, if you’re willing to talk about other people behind their backs, people will think that you will just as easily talk about them when they’re not around, too.
12) Criticism of the people you’re talking to
Finally, this one should be obvious. However, it’s surprising how often people get it wrong.
You may be able to get away with honest and constructive criticism of your closest friends.
But for more casual acquaintances, it’s better not to criticize their appearance, the way they talk, what they do for a living, or anything else about them.
Usually, this will only end up making people feel attacked.
Conversation can be tricky. But by avoiding the topics listed here, you can keep things light and enjoyable for everyone and avoid giving offense.