Category: friendship

16 Interesting, Better Small Talk Questions

Do you need better small talk questions? Do you hate networking? If you're an introvert or you're just sick of asking people 'what do you do?" Click through for better ideas!
Here are some real, actual small talk questions I’ve used lately:

1. “So, who are you guys using for your taxes this year?”
2. “What’s your deductible like with Health Partners? Is there a co-pay?”
3. “What sort of productivity tools are you using? What’s your on-boarding process for new clients?”

Did you just give yourself a migraine from eye rolls? Are you thinking “Wow, I thought Sarah seemed cool(ish) BUT CLEARLY I WAS MISTAKEN.”

Yes? Because those are the very thoughts that I had when I tuned into my own conversations. Between icky gossip, taxes, and real estate, I’ve inadvertently allowed most of my conversations to derail into Snoresville, population me + this person I’m talking to.

Conversations – even small talk with strangers – can be an opportunity to connect with our fellow humans, learn new things, or make a new buddy. If we stay away from boring topics or things that bring out our less-than-best-self (mean-spirited gossip or super negative stuff) conversations can be the start of something beautiful.

But where does one start? How does one go about having better, more positive, more meaningful conversations? It starts with better questions.

Better small talk questions if you’re trying to be polite, professional, or you don’t know the person super well

“What are you reading/watching/listening to that I need to know about?”
Left to my own devices, I’d just watch Broad City repeats and listen to that one Everclear album from 1997 over and over. It’s so enriching and important to read/watch/listen outside of our comfort zones! Asking people this question gives them an opportunity to showcase their excellent taste and act the expert. It also gives you an opportunity to learn about awesome new things!

Related: I’m reading this, watching this, and listening to this.

“What’s awesome in your life right now?”
It’s so, so easy for conversations to take a turn towards the negative – why work sucks, how bad the weather’s been, exactly how much we’re dreading tax season. When we start a conversation on a positive note, it will (hopefully) continue in that direction. In a perfectly polite world, your conversation partner will also ask you about what’s awesome in your life and you’ll have an opportunity to voice all the things you’re grateful for. Lovely!

“What cool non-work projects are you working on right now?”
Dudes, I’m not going to bore you with my work-related projects and I ask that you return the favor. But I do want to know about how you’re training your bunny for agility competitions, prepping for a long trip, or learning Japanese. It’s inspiring to hear what people are learning, trying, and undertaking – hearing what other people are up to can give us a nudge to start our own New Thing.

“You know a lot about __________, right? What do you think I should do about _________?”
People loooooove being asked for advice.* It makes us feel smart, capable, and helpful. So ask your super stylish friend how you should wear this oddly-sized scarf. Ask the amateur brewer what pairs well with Blue Moon. Ask the devoted Dog Mom what you should do with your hyper puppy.

* Not professional advice. Let’s all agree not to ask our accountant friends about deductibles when they’re just trying to find the best slice of cheddar on the cheese tray.

“What are you getting up to this weekend?”
Easy, obvious, inoffensive.

“You live in [neighborhood/city], right? Where should I eat/what should I do when I’m over there?”
Yet another opportunity to gather useful information for yourself and allow your conversation partner to feel awesome, smart, and useful!

P.S. If you find yourself in South Minneapolis, you should go to Melo Glaze for the peanut butter bombs, Minnehaha Falls for the, um, waterfall, and Book Trader because it is exactly as weird as you think.

“Oh, my gosh. You will not believe what happened to me!”
I think that one of the best, easiest ways to break through small talk foolishness is to extend the olive branch. And by ‘olive branch’ I mean ‘share a funny, interesting, personal-ish story about yourself first, to show this person that this is how you conversationally roll.”

I will tell my Richard Simmons story to anyone who will listen. I will also tell everyone, ever that Segways are awesome and blowfish sake isn’t.

Better small talk questions if you’re close friends, bold, or a little weird

Let me be real, friends. If a complete stranger walks up to me at a networking event and opens with “What were you like in high school?” I’m going to turn on my heel and make a bee-line towards the nearest app tray.

But if I’m chatting with an old friend or I’m stuck in an elevator with a stranger and we’ve already worked through the usual questions, I’ll use these deep cuts.

“Tell me something weird about you.”
The person you’re talking to can choose exactly how weird they get. Maybe they’ll tell you something tame and sensible or maybe you’ll discover something fascinating or dark. I recently found out that a friend used to be a professional race car driver!

“What’s your superpower?”
Yup, it’s another positive question that creates an opportunity for us to say pleasant, happy-fying things! This is a great way to gain insight into someone’s character and it’s fascinating to hear what people view as their greatest strengths. Your Ph.D mathematician friend might think her superpower is organizing closets and your shy, introvert friend might think her superpower is hip hop dance.

For the record, my super powers are a) making a pretty decent dinner out of weird leftovers and pantry staples b) getting strangers to tell me their secrets.

“What’s the coolest/best/funniest/worst/whathaveyou thing that’s happened to you lately?”
This is such a great way to turn conversations away from work and real estate! It’s a great way to connect to new people and when you ask them such an open-ended question, you’re giving them space to choose how vulnerable they want to be. Maybe they’ll open up about the horrible meeting they had last week or they might share their go-to hilarious story.

Either way, Boring Conversation Catastrophe averted!

“What were you like in high school?”
I LOVE THIS QUESTION, particularly when I’m meeting people in their 30s and 40s and their jock/goth pasts are totally hidden. Sometimes it’s no surprise that She was a cheerleader and He skipped school to hitchhike to Lollapalooza, but I love being surprised by people’s pasts. My sensitive, uber-articulate, Ph.D. husband played hockey for 16 years, had a mullet (!!!), and graduated 168th out of 170 students!

“What was your first job?”
It’s long past so there’s nothing to be ashamed of and we can share laughs over fast food uniforms, terrible bosses, and all the things we found while cleaning hotel rooms.

“What are your guilty pleasures?”
Now, I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. I’m not sure a person’s taste in tv shows or music has much to do with their value as a human being. Be that as it may, most of us have the books/tv shows/music we reference in our online dating profiles ….. and the books/tv shows/music we quietly play on repeat.

Some of my less cool pleasures? Selena Gomez’s new album and Kylie Jenner’s Instagram feed (!!!)

“Who would play you in a movie?”
This is where we get to indulge in naming the celebrities we’ve been told we look like! Everyone loves that!

(I’m Ruth Wilson.)

“What’s your LEAST favorite place?”
This is a less-positive question, but the answers are almost always hilarious and unexpected. It’s also a quick peek into someone’s life and mind. One person’s least favorite place is the dentist, another’s is a 17-hour Bolivian bus ride across the altiplano surrounded by drunk silver miners who are peeing into Pringles cans. Also: the seats don’t recline.

“What are you really terrible at?”
This was a real dinner party conversation that I encountered a few months ago and I loved it! It was amazing to hear what people were bad at, how they’d learned to work around it or hide it, and all the funny things that had happened because of it. I’m weirdly bad at dates and time zones; I’ve gone to the airport on the wrong day or at the wrong time FIVE TIMES.

But I want to hear from you! How do you feel about small talk? What’s your go-to question? And more importantly, what’s your superpower?

P.S. How to show your friends you love them + Things we don’t say enough (and when to say them).

photos by rob byeChiara Pinna // cc

15 ways to catch up with friends that aren’t grabbing coffee or a cocktail

Want to deepen and strengthen your friendships? There are lots of ways to catch up with your friends that are more meaningful than grabbing coffee! //

“Hey, remember that amaaaaazing time we grabbed a latte at Starbucks and talked about work?”

“Yeah! And remember how we had $11 cocktails and discussed the plotlines of The Mindy Project?”*

I could be wrong, but I’m 97% sure these are not things that Real Life Humans say.

We don’t strengthen friendships or make memories over coffee and cocktails. We check in with each other and we catch up, but we don’t actually deepen our friendships or help them move forward.

15 ways to catch up with friends


True Story: I Helped My Friend Die Peacefully

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Suzanne, her best friend JW, and his death.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Suzanne. I’m 56 years old. I’m a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney, based in Honolulu.

I believe that it’s never too late to become the kind of person you really want to be — and I’ve dedicated my career to helping people grow and improve in all areas of life.

Outside of my work, I love spending time in my garden, writing, eating healthy food, and running on the beach. (This sounds a bit like an online dating profile — but it’s true! 🙂

How did you meet your best friend?

I met my friend JW when he was in his early 60s. (I was 29 years younger than him. It was 1990.)

At that time, JW was facilitating a spirituality and personal growth group in Honolulu. He became my spiritual mentor and, in time, we became friends and colleagues. We collaborated on several projects, including co-hosting a weekly radio program that aired state-wide. We had total creative chemistry right from the beginning. We just “got” each other.

What was he like?

When you were in JW’s presence, you felt loved. Not in a romantic or an unprofessional way… you just felt total love. Unconditional love. It wasn’t necessarily anything he said or did. It’s just the way he was, and the way he related to people. It was a type of energy that is hard to put into words. But others who met him, would tell me that they had this same experience.

He was also incredibly generous. As just one example: he once gave a set of plane tickets to a local family so that the parents — who were working hard but struggling financially — could take their young son to Disneyland. JW made it happen for them even though it was a financial stretch for him. That’s just the kind of person he was.

How did your friendship with JW change your life?

When I first met JW, I was already a skilled therapist and I had earned a PhD. But beneath my armor of impressive professional accomplishments, I was deeply insecure and filled with fear. Deep down, I didn’t really trust that I was really “good” at my work or “valuable” as a human being.

But JW had total, unwavering confidence in me. Because of his belief in me — along with the healing and spiritual practices he taught me — I reached a level of self-assuredness I’d never known before. Finally, for the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to be happy. I felt peace, within.

When did you realize he was terminally-ill?

JW went in for a medical check-up because of a nose bleed. He had recently spent 4 days in Las Vegas. He thought that the nose bleed was due to the dry Vegas air.

The doctor ran a full battery of tests. The nose bleed was nothing to be concerned about. But during the routine tests they discovered that he had stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to the adrenal glands.

His condition was terminal. Surgery was not an option. Prognosis: six months to live if he didn’t have chemotherapy or radiation; one year to live if he did.

How did you feel when you found out?

It was a shock. Although he was a smoker, and 79 years old at the time, JW had always been diligent about getting his regular chest x-rays, check-ups, that sort of thing. In fact, his chest x-ray from just a few months back had been negative.

When I found out he had a terminal diagnosis, I didn’t fall apart. As I often do, I went into survival mode… searching the Internet for answers… for a fix… for something to make this go away!

What happened next?

JW decided not to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

In a sense, he voluntarily chose to end his life — on his own terms — instead of trying to “extend” it just a bit longer or hope for a medical-miracle-recovery. He wanted the end of his life to be joyful and peaceful, not filled with hospital visits and chemicals that he believed would degrade his quality of life.

That was his choice and I supported him.

So you helped your friend move towards the end of his life, peacefully?

Yes. Though, at first, I didn’t think of it that way. JW was at peace with the notion of death (or “making his transition” as he called it,) but I wasn’t OK with losing my friend just yet. I wanted him to live.

I encouraged JW to try natural healing methods — including working remotely with a botanist in Malaysia — and treating his cancer with natural food, exercise and a healthier lifestyle. He was open to all of it. It was amazing to see him transition from being a “meat ‘n potatoes” guy into a juice-drinking, salad-eating vegetarian.

The healthy food and lifestyle — combined with his positive attitude — allowed him to really enjoy the final year or so of his life, instead of enduring the pain and suffering that he associated with conventional treatment.

To JW, that was a gift.

When did you know it was getting closer to “the end”?

A little over a year after JW’s diagnosis, he started to have back pain. Diagnostic tests revealed that the cancer had metastasized to his bones.

It was mostly downhill from there. I was his primary caregiver at the time, preparing his meals, attending to all of his basic needs. I could see him looking strong on certain days, and I’d feel so hopeful — “Maybe he’s going to recover after all!” But I’d also see him growing weaker.

Were you with him at the very end?

Yes. The night before he died we enjoyed some long, long talks about life — sprinkled with humor, laughter and hugs.

The next morning, after I woke up, I went in to check on him. As if he sensed my presence, he opened his eyes. At that moment, we both simultaneously said the exact same words to each other: “That was a wonderful night!”

Then he tilted his head back and seemed to go “somewhere” — as if his spirit left his body.

Those words — “That was a wonderful night!” — were the last words that I heard him speak.

(The fact that we both had spoken them together — in unison — was incredibly beautiful.)

About 10 hours later, he died.

How did you feel when he finally passed on?

At first, I actually felt relief. Now, he could fully rest in peace. I was grateful I had gotten to be there with him — providing the beautiful, dignified setting that he wanted and deserved.

But after that first rush of relief came a different emotion: total grief.

Some small, childlike part of me felt rejected, abandoned, betrayed. Even though I’d been with him through his entire cancer experience — helping him to live comfortably, and also, helping him to die in his own way — we had never really said “goodbye” to one another. We talked about lots of things — all kinds of things — but we never exchanged that one word: “goodbye.”

I felt like I’d been “stripped” of my “right” to say goodbye to my best friend in the way that I wanted to say it. For a long time, I agonized over this.

What did you learn from this entire experience?

I witnessed the importance of trusting ourselves — when a choice that we want to make feels undeniably right. My friend was given “six months to live” if he chose to forgo chemo. He lived beautifully, and comfortably, for double that time. No chemo.

Because of JW’s choices, he was able to die in his own way — in the comfort of home, with his best friend (and another close friend who had stopped by) right by his side — instead of in a hospital. JW’s way of dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis may not be the right choice for everyone, but it was his choice, and for him? I believe it was the right one.

I also got to experience being a caregiver for someone who is terminally-ill as a privilege, not a burden. Ushering someone into the next chapter of life — or after-life, however you want to think about it — is an unforgettable experience.

And… I also got to experience how important it is to take exceptionally good care of yourself, in order to be an effective and patient caregiver. Letting self-care “slip” is not an option. (My experiences with being a caregiver for JW have inspired several projects for me, including this guidebook for caregivers.)

Above all:

The greatest lesson I learned from JW’s death is that we never really have to say “goodbye” to those we love.

Years after JW passed away, while I was writing in my journal, I asked my departed friend, for the millionth time,

“Why didn’t you say goodbye? Why didn’t you let me say goodbye?”

Without thinking, I wrote down the following words:

“There are no goodbyes, there is only forever.”

I truly feel that JW was guiding my hand and my pen, in that moment. His body may no longer be here, laughing and joking with me, or hosting a radio program with me, but the imprint he left on my life is permanent and undeniable. Nothing, not even death, can take that away.

Our friendship is “forever.

Thank you so much for sharing your and JW’s story, Suzanne. Do you guys have any questions for her?

Two other perspectives: I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 30 and I’m chronically ill

14 Sweet Ways To Show Your Friends You Love Them

Want better friendships? Looking for friendship tips? It might start with showing the friends you have NOW you love them! Click through for 14 sweet ideas

How do you show friends you love them? And why – in the name of all that is holy – don’t we make this a priority?

I know that I’ve bragged shamelessly to you guys about how awesome my friends are. They’re smart, funny, adventurous, and amazing in a million different ways. They’ve nursed me through break ups, picked me up at a million different airports, proofread paper after paper and told me that those bangs? They’re just not working.

Just like any long-term relationship, friendships require maintenance. Click To Tweet You wouldn’t expect a lover to go years without any expression of your affection, why would you expect that from a friend? It’s important to let the people in your life know that they matter!

If you’re one of those people who require three beers before you can manage an “I love yoouuuu, maaannnn!” here are a few ideas:

14 ways to show friends you love them


Why You Should Hang Out With + Date People You Admire

Looking for dating advice? Friendship advice? It can't get simpler than this: hang out with people who make you a better person.

Friends, gather round while I share a personal story of which I am not particularly proud.

Long ago and far away, I was not very discerning about the people I surrounded myself with. I wasn’t befriending drug dealers or puppy-kickers but I definitely had a few friends who required disclaimers and post-event apology emails.

There was the girl who’d get into yelling matches with people she just met.

There was the guy who initiated fistfights, in clubs, on the regular.

There were many, many people whose names required the unspoken asterisks “You’ve just got to get to know him” and “She’s an acquired taste” and “She’s a lot better when she’s sober.”

I’m equally sad to report that I dated a few (generally nice, well-mannered) dudes who inspired their fair share of eye-rolls and blushing. The boyfriend who would invite people over and then get so drunk he’d pass out before the party even started. The guy who’d dated half my city and treated most of those ladies poorly.

None of these were humans I was particularly proud to know.

I liked them! They had redeeming qualities – they were funny or interesting or smart – but they also pretty regularly engaged in choices and behavior that made me want to cross the room and pretend I didn’t know them or follow behind them with a broom and dust pan, cleaning up the literal or emotional messes left in their wake.

You deserve friends who leave no mess and require no explanation or excuses. Click To Tweet

Have you heard that clever saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with? I doubt this is based on science (because if it were I’d have developed a taste for craft beers by now) but our friends undoubtedly rub off on us.

Their political opinions, the slang they use, even how they manage their money and their health – in small but real ways, who our friends are affects who we are.So why would you want to be affected by people who were anything less than wonderful?

Slowly but surely, I’ve filled my life with amazing people I’m thrilled to know, the sorts of people whose awesome will (hopefully) rub off on me. Jeremy and his wife adopted three siblings from Ethiopia. Ewa runs super marathons. Elizabeth co-created an organic skincare line that’s carried by Anthropologie.

Grant made a music video. Amy owns a successful, all-women tattoo shop. Justin doesn’t own a car and rides his bike 14 miles (each way!) to work every day. Jen has two (!) M.A.s from Harvard. Kelly wrote a a New York Times bestseller. My husband made a whole damn movie.

You deserve friends and partners who inspire more boasting than blushes, people who are exactly as amazing as you are.

Are you proud of the people you surround yourself with? In what positive ways have your friends rubbed off on you?

P.S. How to make friends as an adult + How to get the love life you want

photo by Asaf R // cc

Are you a ‘taker’? How to tell if you are + what to do about it

Looking for friendship advice? Want to be a better friend? It starts with being a giver - not a taker. Click through to see if you're a taker + what to do if you are!

Here are some things I’ve needed help with during the last 10 years of my life

  • early morning drop offs/late night airport pick ups (about a million of ’em)
  • some heart-rending breakups
  • lots of Craigslist runs that necessitated borrowed pickups/hatchbacks/another pair of strong arms

Many of my nearest-and-dearest buy furniture from, like, stores and have the nerve maintain happy, healthy marriages so I haven’t been able to return all those favors. Slowly but surely I’ve developed a (tiny) complex about the give and take in my friendships.

Was I asking too much of my friends?
Were people going to avoid my calls because they thought I’d just ask to borrow their truck? Again?
Was I becoming That Person?

This obviously lead to the idea for a blog post series and some Big, Relatively Deep Thoughts about give and take and healthy friendships.

Here, inspired by my own neuroses, are four questions you can ask yourself to discover if you’re a ‘taker’

Do most of our conversations focus around me + my life/problems?

Did I spend an hour and a half detailing the project I just completed? Did I monopolize our night with tales of car repair? Do I have any idea what’s going on in their life? Did I think to ask?

If you’re going through something tough you are 100% allowed to talk about it. At length. I will happily talk to you about your breakup every time I see you – for a few months even!


If your life is clipping along as usual, with the absolutely normal ups and downs we all experience, it’s kind and important to share the floor with your friends. This does not require memory tricks or black belt conversation skills; it can be as simple as “What’s new at work?” or “How are things going with botanist you were dating?”

Does it feel like this person is doing more for me than I’m doing for them?

How many times have I asked them to help me move? How many times have I shined the friend-beacon in the night sky and requested emotional support? How often have I asked for a professional favor or introduction?

You needn’t keep a spreadsheet of who’s-done-what (because that would be weird) and you can’t really help it if your friends are homeowners and you’re an apartment dweller who moves every two years. We can all, however, be conscious and intentional of how often we’re calling in favors.

Do I tend to complain when I’m around them?

Some people love to complain + vent and I even know some people who manage it in a hilarious, endearing manner. It can even help you bond!

But I think there’s a big difference between a shared, affectionate, five-minute rant about the service at your favorite noodle joint and regularly railing against your partner to your friends. Or talking about how you hate your body around a friend who struggled with an eating disorder in college. For a lot of people negativity is draining and derailing and when we spend our time venting our frustrations at them we’re just sucking up all their energy.

Do I only reach out to them when I need something?

When was the last time I sent them a text just because I was thinking about them? When was the last time I initiated plans? How many hilarious otter videos have I sent them?

Again, you don’t need a spreadsheet, but let’s all make a conscious effort to show our friends we love them and not just call them when we need a ride to the airport.

So you’ve got some ‘taker’ tendencies. We all do. Here’s what you can do about it.

Really, it’s insanely easy to be a little bit less of a taker.

Ask your friends about their lives

We all know conversation works both ways. I ask you a question and then you ask me a question. And I’m asking you questions because you’re my friend and I care about you and I want to know about your life.

When you know they’re traveling/moving/going through a tough time, reach out

Many of us aren’t good at asking for help; it makes us feel weak and incompetent. Save your friend the trouble and when you know they need something, offer to help.

Help them be the person they want to be

If you know your friend is giving up alcohol, invite them to coffee or make reservations at a place that only serves juice and tea. If you’re super active and you know they’re training for a 5k, include them in your running group.

Of course (of course!) friendship is a two-way street and it’s important to know that you can (and should!) lean on your friends from time to time. We love you! We want to help you! There will be times in your life – divorce, miscarriage, unemployment, death, crushing debt, mental health struggles – when you have to lean heavily on your friends.

At the risk of being eye-rollingly trite we should all be the sort of friends we'd like to have. Click To Tweet

Which probably starts with a little less taking a few more links to otter videos.

Have you ever been a ‘taker’ in your friendships? How have you dealt with takers in your life? 

P.S. How to travel with a friend and not kill them + Things we don’t say enough (and when to say them)

photo by kris guico // cc