How to Have Better Dinner Conversations

In one of the comments regarding yesterday’s post, my friend, Ron Edmondson, said, “I would love to sit at your dinner table sometime. Great conversations!” As I read that, I thought, We do have great conversations around our dinner table! Then I realized that these don’t happen by accident.

A Group Having a Great Conversation at a Restaurant - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/asiseeit, Image #11543182

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/[Photographer]

Over the years, my wife, Gail, and I have developed a set of conversational rules that we use at the dinner table. We have never written these down. They are largely unarticulated. However, over the years we have done our best to maximize these opportunities and to make eating more about the discussion than the food—though we certainly enjoy good food!

Here are eight things we do to create engaging dinner-time conversations. I have found that they work at home, with friends, and even at work.

  1. Consciously seek out conducive environments. In order to have meaningful conversations, you must be able to hear one another. We don’t mind background music. In fact, it can help create the right atmosphere. But it cannot be so loud that you find yourself struggling to hear.
  2. Have only one conversation at a time. We learned this from Luci Swindoll. We went to her home for dinner one night. As we were sitting down to eat, she graciously said, “I only have one rule, and that is that we have one—and only one—conversation at a time. We can talk about anything you like. I really don’t care. But just one conversation.” This one rule transformed our dinner conversations.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. As the hosts, Gail and I have a singular goal: we try to ask interesting questions. We try to make these questions open-ended, so that people must elaborate and give us some insight into them as a person. For example,
    • What is your idea of a perfect vacation?
    • If you could design your ideal job, what would it look like?
    • What is the best book you have read in the last 12 months and why?
    • What is the most important lesson you learned from your father?
    • When is your very favorite thing about your spouse?
    • If you were by yourself, and could listen to any music you want, what would it be?
    • If you could spend a day with anyone on the planet, who would it be?
    • What it is like to be your friend? or to be married to you?
    • If you were suddenly the President of the U.S., what would you do first?
    • Looking back over your life, what would you describe as your proudest moment?
  4. Ask a second question. The most interesting conversations come after the initial answer. It takes extraordinary discipline to refrain from answering your own question and, instead, ask a second question. Yet this is where the deepest conversations occur. I like to ask questions like these as follow-up questions:
    • How did it feel when that happened?
    • Can you elaborate on that?
    • Why do you think that is important to you?
    • Do you think you would have answered the same way five years ago?
    • What emotion do you feel when you describe that?
  5. Draw out those who are reticent to speak. In any group, there are people who are naturally talkers and those who are content to listen. I try to draw out the latter. As the saying goes, “Still waters run deep.” Sometimes your best contributions come from those who won’t answer unless you ask. I simply say, “[Name], what do you think about that?”
  6. Pay attention to people’s physical needs. When we have guests in our home, I am constantly scanning the table to see who needs drink refills or who might like a second helping. I don’t want my guests to think about these things, so the conversation can be the primary focus. This requires that you see yourself as a facilitator and a servant.
  7. Do more listening than talking. You must cultivate self-awareness before you can get good at this. You must be aware of the rhythm inherent in any conversation. How much are they talking? How much are you talking? Focusing on asking questions is the key. If you do this well, you will find yourself talking less and listening more.
  8. Affirm people, even if you disagree with them. I am actually more interested in people I disagree with. I think this is because I have the potential of learning something new. I am intrigued by the fact that they hold a view different than my own. As a result, I try to “see” what they see and experience life from their perspective. Even when I disagree, I find myself saying, “That is fascinating. How did you come to that conclusion?” or “Wow. Can you elaborate?”

The older I get, the more I relish great conversations with friends. I love getting to know the people in my life and learning from them.

Question: What things have you found helpful in generating more meaningful conversations?
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  • Christianne

    So much of what you're saying here resonates with some training I've had on the ministry of listening. It really is an others-focused orientation … and, really, an incarnational ministry that affords the opportunity to love with Christ's love … a love that is always reaching out and drawing out so that others find themselves truly known.
    My recent post Noticing God in Everyday Life

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Perfect. This is incarnational—and eucharistic. It’s no wonder that so many important events in the Bible center around a meal.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/MaurilioAmorim MaurilioAmorim

    Mike, when I host a dinner party, I try to make the entire event about the guests. I want to get to know them better, hear about their lives and hopefully feed them well. In my mind I'm thinking "I want them to have a great time here and remember this for a while."
    My recent post Effective Communicators Are Life Long Learners: A Lesson from Dr. John Bisagno

    • http://www.leadershipfreak.wordpress.com Leadership Freak

      Maurilio,

      I like the simple statement. "I try to make the entire event about the guests." It's simple, memorable, and I think right.

      Leadership Freak
      Dan Rockwell
      My recent post Frozen by perfection

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      You are one of the very BEST dinner hosts I know. The care with which you personally prepare the food for your guests speaks volumes about how much you value them.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

      Maurilio, Rumor has it that you feed people very well.
      My recent post The Sin of Omission

    • Melissa Knauer

      Maurilio, I completely agree. When I entertain, I think of the needs/wants of each of my guests. I plan around them. I want them to leave my home feeling refreshed and comforted. Thank you for your post. Melissa Knauer P.s., I've just sent you an e-mail today and I hope it went through all right! :)

  • EJH

    Typo in this line…We have ever written these down. It does not take away from your post but you seem like the type to care.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Got it. Thanks. I have fixed it. (I wished I could catch my own typos!)

      • Renee

        Aloha – I just discovered this plugin — After the Deadline. Now for me to sit down, write, and use it. (smile).

  • http://www.vancouversavvy.com Lucy

    I think one of the hardest parts of dinner conversations is having ONE conversation only, esp. with large groups.

    How do you deal with, being the only person making/starting conversation? Eventually you feel like a moderator at the table.

    • http://www.leadershipfreak.wordpress.com Leadership Freak

      Interesting point Lucy. I wonder if this works best with small groups of 4 to 6?

      Leadership Freak
      Dan Rockwell
      My recent post Frozen by perfection

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      We intentionally manage the size of the group. The ideal size for us is six—us plus four others. Eight works almost as well. Ten is more difficult. Beyond ten is nearly impossible, though it can be done.

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  • http://www.orbifish.com Maxine McClellan

    Thanks Michael for this post.

    My company is in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and we work with executives preparing them for international business and relations. This post will be a great tool when talking about listening kills and effective social engagement.

    Always enjoy your tweets and posts!

    Maxine

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      In my experience with Brazilians, they naturally do these things. Is this your experience. What additional cultural nuances do you see?

      Gail and I love Brazil and, especially, the people.

      • http://www.orbifish.com Maxine McClellan

        You are quite right in that there is an art of conversation here. It is common for total strangers to strike up conversation while standing in lines – of which there is many (at banks, post office, supermarkets etc.).

        What is culturally different between Americans and Brazilians is often the conversation topics – they can be quite personal and often about topics Americans find “taboo” to talk about outside of a close circle of friends. For example, I am regularly asked about my age, marital status and children – do I intend to have any. Later comes questions about my profession. “Taboo” topics such as religion and politics are regularly discussed with just about anyone and can get very heated.

        Again, I thank you for this post. I’ve now used it several times during training sessions. Lots of Brazilians are getting to know Michael and Gail.

  • http://www.simonhay.com.au/ Simon Hay

    Be observant. A shy person will react to something that is said but will rarely comment. If you compliment them then an opportunity arises to draw them into the conversation. "Wow, you have great eyes." At first they're startled and then a little embarrassed, but if you keep on talking you will get a response. Eye contact, smile and listen.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I really work at trying to notice these people. It is easy to let the gregarious people dominate. I never want anyone to feel marginalized.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I like it. Great ideas for the dinner table and conversations in general. One question… in #2 does that mean one conversation as a GROUP? I assume yes but wanted to clarify. I'm often at the table where there is one conversation taking place but just between different people. :)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, one conversation as a group. No side conversations.

  • Juan

    Hi Mike,
    It goes back to every conversation or business meeting, sales meeting, etc. We have to master the art of asking questions and to listen and keep asking questions. So when we part ways – the feeling is they want to meet with you again, do business with you.

    People want to speak up, talk, and if I just listen, I learn volumes about them, their lives, their wants to, their needs.
    Great Post.

  • http://www.leadershipfreak.wordpress.com Dan Rockwell

    Thanks for a practical post. I love Luci Swindoll's rule! Thanks for sharing it.

    Recently my wife and I started playing what we call improvisational listening. We're having fun with it. Basically, listeners go with the speaker rather than against them. We laugh at each other when we break the rule. I describe it at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/i

    Rule number one of improvisation is go with not against another's statements.

    Loving your posts,

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell
    My recent post Frozen by perfection

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    The dining room table seems to be one of the most underused pieces of furniture in the modern household. With the advent of fast food, mobile communications, and an on-the-go lifestyle, how many people actually sit down for an evening meal together?

    I know this is a challenge in our house.

    Yet there is nothing better than breaking bread, pouring coffee, and having a great conversation. For many people the dinner conversation might be at a Starbucks, Panera Bread, or Applebees restaurant. I think many of the same rules apply, but it does make it easier for everyone to join in the conversation as the host doesn't have to worry about the food or heaven forbid… Dishes!!

    One quick tip for shy people. One of the best things you can do when engaging in conversation is to look the other person in the eye. This instantly builds rapport. An easy way to do this is to make a mental note of the person's eye color. This will force you to look at their eyes and is easy to remember.

    I have some small group study cards available as a free download on my blog that can help stimulate a great conversation. The front side has a popular proverb and the back side expands on the concept and asks and open-ended question. Just pass these around the table and have people respond one at a time. Each card can start a rousing group discussion. The nice thing about these cards is they are easy to carry in your pocket or purse and fit most any group dynamic. The link is http://bit.ly/cohPGP

    Michael, I think I'll have to take your advice and plan a dinner event out our house. To help us plan something like that, a future post with some of Gail's great recipes might be in order. Thanks for the great post!
    My recent post Shorten Your Tweets For Success

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      John, your comments always add value to my posts. I can't wait to check out these cards! Thanks.

  • http://gailbhyatt.wordpress.com/ Gail Hyatt

    This is a great post, Michael. I love seeing these points collected in one spot. Seeing them written down, in black and white, shows that this level of great dinner experiences must be intentional, but is not difficult at all.
    My recent post Nothing Is Wasted: The Story Of Tsi

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Almost everything I know about this topic I learned from you. <3

  • http://www.RumorsOfGlory.com Lucille Zimmerman

    The book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" sounds like such a manipulative, self-serving title, but it taught me so much about interacting with people. The big takeaway was, "People like you based on how YOU make THEM feel."

    I've never forgotten that. People aren't going to walk away from a conversation with me, feeling good about themselves, if all they hear about is me. Turning the focus on another, and really offering great listening skills is quite a gift.

    While studying to be a counselor I learned many more skills (head nodding, mirroring body language, repeating back, rephrasing, minimal statements like, "yes," "I see," "tell me more," "what was that like?" and of course, "How does that make you feel?"

    I'm always amazed at the number of people who will talk about themselves for hours at a dinner party, and walk away never having asked me anything…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Believe it or not, when I was in high school, my dad paid me to read that book. It was an awesome investment!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    I love what Maurilio said about it being all about the guest. I'm a feeder – I LOVE to feed people. But the challenge is to find out what they absolutely LOVE to eat. My goal is to find out what their favorites are. I would be so embarassed if I slaved over a homemade German Chocolate Cake and my guests hated coconut! Duh! So I investigate favorite foods. Now I can't tell you how many times I get requests for Red Velvet Cake, Chicken Enchiladas, or Chicken Vegetable Soup. I kind of like it when something I make becomes someone's favorite. :-) I am so going to try these tips out on our next Small Group home meeting. Especially Luci's rule – only one conversation at a time. I'm constantly amazed at how rude adults can be when people are trying to carry on a conversation. There, my rant is done. Time to get on with my day. Thanks for a great blog!
    My recent post Party in the Valley…

  • http://www.yuzzi.com Rick Yuzzi

    I think I'll practice some of this on the kids at the dinner table. Especially the follow-up questions. I bet it would make family dinner more interesting and help get past some of the one word answers you can get sometimes.
    My recent post Now “choice” is controversial?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, we have done this with our children, too. It works equally well with them. It is especially enjoyable to do it with our adult children.

  • http://diongovender.wordpress.com Dion Govender

    I do love dinner conversations. I think theres no better tool to build relationship than over a scrumptious meal. I would agree wholly that key is listening. Great post Michael, thanks for the reminder.

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  • http://hookembookem.blogspot.com/ Mark Young

    Including our eight-year-old daughter in our dinner conversations. She listens to what her parents might be talking about and gives a child's view point. Very refreshing. Sometimes, very insightful.
    My recent post James Scott Bell

  • http://twitter.com/robwar0100 @robwar0100

    Michael, this might seem like a picky or petty comment, but you say you try to make eating more about the discussion than the food, though you do enjoy the food. Dr. Susan Albers-Bowling with the Cleveland Clinic has written a few books dealing with this idea of mindful eating, where those who struggle with weight issues, focus on what they are eating, how it tastes, how it feels (the texture) and whether they enjoy it. She teaches this because too often much eating is mindless — we eat because we are alone, depressed or because we are watching TV and want something else to do. We often become overstimulated while eating and do not pay attention to the food, so we tend to not enjoy it. The tips are good, I am not disputing that, but I would focus much of the conversation for after dinner. Enjoy God's bounty together during dinner, and enjoy and explore good friendships later.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your insight on this. I personally don't think it has to be either/or.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    I love this. I have noticed lately how much a great dinner conversation can energize me. And how frustrating a lame dinner conversation can be. I need to take responsibility for making each experience more engaging.
    My recent post The Sin of Omission

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That's a point I should have made in the post. As the host, you are de facto the leader and the one responsible for the outcome. Occasionally, Gail and I actually say to one another, “What would make this a great evening?” or “What specific outcomes do we want from this dinner?” It's much easier to achieve it if you know what you are trying to create.

      Thanks.

  • Mary

    I enjoy good conversation. Authenticity, to me, is the best conversation starter. No need to be manipulative or disingenuous.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree. This is a case where the host can go first and set the tone for transparency and authenticity.

  • http://www.backseatwriter.com Amy

    I'm a good conversationalist and would also love to have dinner with the Hyatts. I mean, I was at a dinner with my friend and her co-workers the other night and we were bored to tears. The conversation centered around utter nonsense. Finally, when I couldn't take it anymore, I pretended I got a call on my cell phone. Yeah, that was bad. Honestly, I didn't want to hear about the baby pooping habits any longer. Plus, no one at the table read books or watched "Glee" or had any notion as to what was going on in current events. Sigh.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It is much more difficult when you get with people who are not committed to personal growth. I sometimes watch in amazement as some couples sit in a restaurant in total silence, starring forward with zero conversation. The only sense in which they are together is that they are in roughly the same physical space.

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    A gene runs in my mother's side of the family, and unfortunately, I caught it (if you can catch a gene)–we talk too much. Over the years of trying to compete in conversation, to be heard, to get in a few words in the midst of those with the "talker" gene, I confess I have lost some of my listening skills. Over the past year, I have sought a cure. I force myself to back off and listen. I try to not to interrupt or form my words in my mind while the other person is still speaking. The above rules are great. I've known people with that special gift who honor all of the above. They amaze me and I admire them.

  • Kate

    In college I worked in fundraising with alumni donors and two rules we used with them have stuck with me through life and have helped me have many meaningful conversations. The first rule we were taught was the 80-20 rule. Basically that meant we listened to the alum talk 80% of the time and we talked about 20% of the time. Funny how this rule helps to keep me humble in real life conversations!
    The second rule we learned was the "three-question" rule. This is similar to Michael's #4, but we were to take it one step further and ask two follow up questions to the first open ended question. They had to relate to the first question – we couldn't start new topics until we'd really explored the first question. This is such a great technique for drawing people out and really learning more what is below the surface.
    I still find both these rules an excellent way to get to know new people and engage them first without spewing everything I think I know.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      These are fantastic tips. I especially love the 80/20 rule. Beautiful!

  • Lauren Sylvan

    Great topic. Back when our kids were at home, at dinner we would always ask them to tell us the best thing that happened that day, and the worst. It gave us a window into their school lives and friendships. Maybe now that it's just the two of us (usually) we should start doing that again!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      We used that question with our children, too. However, we only used the first one, because we wanted them to focus on the positive. It's fun to watch our kids now use it with their kids!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JerodMSF JerodMSF

    Michael,

    Thank you for writing this enlightening post. I have to say that I do not often find myself hosting dinner parties, but I do feel much more empowered to lead a good conversation when the situation inevitably arises.

    I did, however, find your 8 points interesting from a blogging perspective. It struck me these principles are useful not just for dinner conversation, but also for bloggers who are looking to increase the level of engagement on their blogs. I hope you won't mind me posting a link to my site here, but I spent this morning repositioning your 8 principles above as tips for developing better blog conversation:

    http://how-to-blog.tv/content/8-ways-to-have-bett

    It just goes to show you that successful blogging is not a complicated science. Oftentimes it is simply a matter of applying to your blogging what makes you successful in related areas of your non-blogging life.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I loved your post. It appeared on my Google Alerts, because you mentioned my name. I thought it was very creative. I like how you took these principles and applied them to a slightly different topic. Great work!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/JerodMSF JerodMSF

        Thanks! Your kind words are much appreciated. One of our other writers on H2B actually introduced me to your blog and I am quite glad she did. Always something useful and interesting here on a day-to-day basis.
        My recent post 8 Ways to Have Better Blog Conversations

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BrianFrench BrianFrench

    This post is awesome. I've been trying to build better relationships with people I don't know well in our church, and one method I was using was to invite them into our home for lunch after a worship service. I was always well fed, but never really got farther than that.

    This would be a great way to do that! Thanks for the post.

    One other question: Any suggestions when the people you invite (or you) have kids that are "active" during mealtimes? :)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Kids are always challenging. We actually try to ask them questions, too. It is amazing to hear some of their answers. Occasionally, when we have had people over and are in the middle of an important conversation, Gail will take the kids off and play with them. She is great at this.

  • http://twitter.com/Jim_Gray @Jim_Gray

    so much there we can apply to our social media table as well…
    My recent post Crime and @ Replies

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      So true. That would be worth a post.

  • Trey

    Thank you for taking the time to write the understood and unwritten rules of your dinner conversations . . . practical stuff. My wife and I have only formalized on rule of conversation, and it started when we were dating. I made a concerted effort to ask good follow-up questions to get to know her better. In my zeal, though, it sometimes came off like an interview. So she came up with our one rule — equal reciprocity. Don't ask a question you would not be willing to answer. While it's second nature now, following through with that one rule required both of us to be vulnerable and authentic. It made a world of difference for us!

  • http://www.shrinkingthecamel.com Bradley J. Moore

    It's amazing the number of professional and sohpisticated (or so I thought) people that I have socialized with over dinner who absolutely fail at these basic social skills such as asking questions, gracious listening and affirming. Instead, their real motive is to talk about themselves and make an impression.

    These are great guidelines. Sounds like you and Gail are a class act.
    My recent post Nine Things I Learned From Guest Posting on Michael Hyatt’s Blog

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Basic conversational skills should be taught in school. Teachers should drill students, until they get it right. This would be a huge contribution to the students’ career and future success. Thanks.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

        Can you explain what you envision the drills to be? As a high school English teacher, I am well aware of the lacks my students have when it comes to basic communication skills. A number of them don't even treat teachers with any kind of respect–they are really rude and obnoxious. Today, I actually had a junior tell me that he didn't need to learn any more English because he's American and he already knows the language. I am looking for some way to help my students understand the necessity of good reading, writing, and speaking skills. They just don't get it!
        My recent post #28 BECOMING A SON OF GOD: THE NEW BIRTH

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          I would teach them the principles, create a practice session, and then coach them on the fundamentals. Perhaps you could even video them and then watch the video with them. My golf teacher does this, and it is a HUGE help to actually see my swing.

          For example, if you followed the 80/20 rule suggested by one of the commentors above, you could actually time how much they listen and how much they talk.

          I think this could be very fun and hugely helpful.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

            Thanks! Ohio is in the process of firming up requirements for high school graduation by requiring a senior project which would involve a presentation. While the 80/20 rule would be moot in that venue, good communication skills would be necessary. My school is in the planning stages now–I'll try to make sure we include instruction of effective communication.
            My recent post #28 BECOMING A SON OF GOD: THE NEW BIRTH

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

            Thanks! Ohio is in the process of firming up requirements for high school graduation by requiring a senior project which would involve a presentation. While the 80/20 rule would be moot in that venue, good communication skills would be necessary. My school is in the planning stages now–I'll try to make sure we include instruction of effective communication.
            My recent post #28 BECOMING A SON OF GOD: THE NEW BIRTH

  • http://www.newclientsbydesign.com Karen Dodd

    I loved this Michael, and found it very helpful. I have often noticed that one guest is often shy, although they're taking everything in. Your idea of how to draw them out is great. As well, I sometimes find that a few of we more outgoing types (that would be me!) sometimes get so engaged in our topic to the exclusion of those less interested and then we kind of lose people + it seems discourteous. Thanks for the great tips on how to handle that.

    I love what was once said about the late British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli on a similar topic:
    "It was said that, when you had dinner with Gladstone (19th Century British PM), you left feeling he was the wittiest, most brilliant, most charming person on earth. But when you had dinner with Disraeli , you left feeling that YOU were the wittiest, most brilliant, most charming person on earth."

    My recent post Hello world!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Love the Disraeli quote. Brilliant!

  • http://www.lifecompassblog.com Rich Avery

    I've always found open-ended questions to be helpful. Thank you for suggesting the "follow-up questions". These are great!
    My recent post The Decision Making Process: 7 Strategies for Success

  • Rob

    I find this posting vaguely disturbing. The notion that dinner conversation must be carefully instigated and controlled seems quite manipulative to me.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Fascinating. Why do you think that is?

      I see it as a way of getting to know people better and respecting them as people and fellow travelers.

      • Rob

        Well, you're doing it to me right now, and it's kind of annoying. You tweeted that great dinner conversations don't just happen, but I disagree. I've enjoyed many stimulating conversations over the years without resorting to communications strategies. What's wrong with allowing conversation to evolve organically? All it requires is interesting people and a desire to discuss ideas rather than people or things. Some of your suggestions amount to surreptitiously orchestrating what should be a spontaneous thing. Do you think your dinner guests would approve if they knew you were using a strategy to draw forth comments or steer the flow of conversation in what should be a safe and relaxed environment?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          So does this mean you’re not coming over for dinner on Saturday?

          • Rob

            Since you would have little to gain from dining with me, I suspect that I'm not invited. Since beginning this dialog, I've explored more of your site to try to understand where you are coming from. I see you have carved out a niche as a leadership guru within the christian community. I guess leaders have to be leading all the time, including dinnertime. Now that I know who you are, I see that this conversation isn't going to lead to anything meaningful.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

            So what would this conversation look like to you if it were meaningful? I’m serious.

          • Rob

            Well, let's recap what has happened so far. I posted a mildly critical response to your piece, which advocated using manipulative techniques in what should have been a private, friendly atmosphere. You replied by using one of the techniques on me, which, whether it was intended as a joke or to prove that the techniques work, didn't address my criticism. When I fleshed out my comments a bit more, you made a flippant crack and still didn't respond to my comments. And now you wonder why this hasn't been meaningful? Really?

          • Ary

            I think communication is a skill that builds relationships and like all other skills it must be learned, I would not consider that manipulative. True you could get some mileage without any structure or 'rules' but I am learning that especially with relationships, if you get so much more when you are intentional about it.

  • Candace

    Mike, there's something so satisfying about great dinner conversation. Early on, we were encouraged and have made it a great habit of "bringing goods to the table;" we stay plugged in so we have plenty of interesting and funny things to share at dinner which makes for lively conversation. When the group is larger, we make sure our best conversationalists are somewhere in the middle or we find one end is laughing & enjoying while the other is feeling a bit left out.

  • http://sarahsandifer.blogspot.com/ Sarah Sandifer

    My husband and I once listened to a comedian talk about the 'Me-Monsters' of dinner conversations- those people who not only dominate the conversation, but feel the need to one-up everything anyone else has shared. Though funny, it's sad that it's rooted in reality because there are so many people out there like that! I love the servant-hearted focus of this post where you give up the spotlight in order to let it shine on someone else. Open-ended questions and genuine caring for another can do much for life-giving sharing times around the table.
    My recent post First is the best, second is the worst, third is the….

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I assume you are referring to Brian Regan’s routine entitled, “I Walked on the Moon.” It’s available in many places on the Web. It is one of my all-time favorite comedy bits!

  • Clear2Go

    Anna (my wife) and I have been entertaining guests more lately in our home. I think we seem to do some of this naturally, but always room for improvement and now I will be more conscious of it.

    -mike.

  • Michael

    I've been at dinners where it is too obvious that a guest or host had recently read a book on how to have a better conversation at dinner or is practicing his or her conversation discipline. It always feels somewhat contrived because the big goal was to have "meaningful conversation". It wasn't about fellowship and it wasn't really about knowing one another better either.

    I definitely agree we should have the tools to be able to engage an individual and listen to them effectively, and there are some great tips here to do just that, but it can't happen authentically without sincerely caring about who they are as a person. If we have that as our motivation then the rest will typically take care of itself.

    My recent post Complete List of 2010 Grammy Award Winners

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It's probably like most things—playing the piano, learning to ride a bike, etc. At first it feels contrived and forced. But eventually, if you stay with it, it becomes natural and even second-nature. I think you have to be willing to be forgiving of yourself and others when you are just learning a new skill.

  • http://www.thanhdlu.com Thanh

    Great list! I would like to add to the list: use stories to illustrate a point. Story telling are great additions to awesome conversations.
    My recent post Inspiration Dissected

  • http://www.riascollectables.com Ria

    Thank you for sharing this. I have a couple of people I would love to send your way.
    If you do not mind, I am going to actually take notes and practice.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gwalter Gary Walter

    Nice, practical, and helpful – especially for those of us standing on the shoulders of our blue-collar parents, and weren't necessarily exposed to the likes of "polite" society too much.

    Now, with young kids at the table, which we'll have for a few more years, politeness is relative and they provide built-in conversation as all the parents dote after their mutual kids! However, I assume that someday I'll be able to have adult conversation again! :p

    My recent post Five Years Ago

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gwalter Gary Walter

    Nice, practical, and helpful – especially for those of us standing on the shoulders of our blue-collar parents, and weren't necessarily exposed to the likes of "polite" society too much.

    Now, with young kids at the table, which we'll have for a few more years, politeness is relative and they provide built-in conversation as all the parents dote after their mutual kids! However, I assume that someday I'll be able to have adult conversation again! :p

    My recent post Five Years Ago

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep. I totally get that. You will defintely be able to have adult conversations again. The best part is that they will eventually be with your adult children!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

    This one sounds silly, but is brings serious results:

    PAY ATTENTION and MAKE EYE CONTACT with the person with whom you are you making conversation.

    In our blackberry-world today, our presence no longer seems to be in the present. We are either texting while driving . . . or emailing while "watching the kids" . . . or talking on the phone while walking, driving, elevating (you know what I mean), and eating with other people.

    As simple as it is, if you maintain some eye contact through your conversations and actually give 100% of your attention to the person across from you, the content and engagement seems to just go through the roof sometimes.
    My recent post Sign of the Times

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Ross Campbell talks about this in his book, How to Really Love Your Child. As it turns out, the parenting principles he outlines work in almost all relationships.

  • http://twitter.com/ReachingWomen @ReachingWomen

    I love your blogs and read them daily. I may be showing my ignorance, but could someone please tell me how I can get "My Recent Post" to show up as a live link? I tried to post a comment yesterday with my own blog post at the end like others are doing, but failed to have the hyperlink work. Thanks for anyone who can help me with this! Blessings…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      If you enter your Web site name (including the http://) in the new comment form, it should pull your latest post automatically. What blogging platform are you using?

  • http://www.godeeperstill.com Lana Vaughan

    You and Gail are welcome at our table any time you find yourself in San Jose, CA.

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  • http://Www.dfwgathering.com Jeremy Lucarelli

    This post will be extremely helpful to the community group leaders within our church. Our community seeks to follow Jesus by seeing lives transformed for Him. Dinner conversations are paramount for infecting our neighborhoods, work places, and businesses with the gospel. Though people may not come to church, they’ll most likely respond to a dinner invitation. Thanks for giving us this tool!

  • http://keithferrin.wordpress.com/ Keith Ferrin

    Whenever I sit down to coffee with people (but this could apply to dinner), I frequently start by simply saying, "Tell me a story." There's usually a pause, then the question "About what?" My response is always "Whatever you want. Life. Work. Something funny. Something meaningful. Whatever." This simple request has lead to some of the most fantastic conversations – and learning moments for me!
    My recent post the ripple effect of our choices

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      No THAT is a great question!

    • Melissa Knauer

      I like this. I try to do open ended questions with my children as well. They are still young enough that they WANT to talk at the dinner table, a lot! I enjoy this so much and hope we can continue this tradition in years to come. By the way, my name is Melissa Knauer and I'm new here. I'm trying to meet people who share the same experiences as myself. I'm searching for an agent at the moment and am excited at the prospects. Is there anyone out there who shares any similarities with me? Thanks so much for your post Kevin. I will try this out on my children soon.

  • L. Alexander

    Love your blog!! I'm new to it but could spend a lot to time here. Thanks for investing in this site and putting your thoughts down for us to read!

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  • Ary

    I just wanted to say thank you so for your blog and thanks to your wife Gail for her twits. I am learning so much about writing and about life from you both. I feel like I know you and you are such wonderful people showing the love of Christ through your words, actions and life. Thanks to you both. God bless you.

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  • http://twitter.com/mattstephens268 @mattstephens268

    OK. So it seems like these are applicable largely to group conversations. With the second one, my mind immediately went to the first topic that usually comes up at our dinner table: work. For us, dinner is debrief time. Few topics are as boring as accounting (no offense all you accountants!), so I usually try to interject a different topic before dinner is through.

    On tip #3, those are great questions! But as I read through them, I couldn't help but wonder, how would I answer these? And I wasn't sure how forthcoming an answer would be, because honestly, they aren't the type of question I'm used to thinking about. I think some people are just better at talking about themselves than others.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  • Patty

    Great Post Mike, Like you said it is important to be a good listener. I hate when someone walks over someone else when they are speaking. I especially hate it when I catch myself doing it.

    You guys had dinner with Luci Swindol? How awesome was that?

    God Bless

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  • http://www.toddburkhalter.com Todd Burkhalter

    Stumbled upon this older post. Great topic that caught my interest since I was just at a dinner last night that had excellent conversation. I was thinking about the people I was with, and thought about one of my favorite questions when meeting someone in this setting. What keeps you busy when your not working? To learn about their hobbies and passions away from the office.

  • Paul Cahill

    Fantastic post. I thoroughly enjoy good dinner conversation and I am going to put some of this into practice, especially the one conversation rule.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jgallagher1 John Gallagher

    I simply love this post…Don't know what else to say… Would love to particpate in one of these conversations… I even want to use questions similar to this with my kids.

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  • http://avoniaphotography.com/ avonia photography

    Totally agree! I find myself following these rules at weddings also, where I know no one but like to get to know the guests. http://avoniaphotography.com/

  • Simon Joe

    Hei, very nice tips:) This is cool tips for date too, because sometimes I have no idea what I should ask. Im nervous or just, you know, dont know how to find the right words:) Have you got any tips for dinners? cooking etc.? Im watching here http://www.answerl.com/q/how-to-make-a-good-dinner and there are some good tips, but I want something more “loveful”, thanks for your tips:)