Conversation Starters That Have Nothing to Do With the Coronavirus

4 Min
Conversation Starters That Have Nothing to Do With the Coronavirus

It’s important to stay informed on the latest pandemic news, but you may find yourself wanting to have a chat or four about non-coronavirus things.

If it feels as if almost every conversation you have, whether with co-workers or loved ones, veers toward talk of the coronavirus, you’re not alone with that thought. The outbreak has upended people’s lives and livelihoods around the world. Hearing constant updates about the news and worrying developments of friends and family can feel overwhelming.

It is important to stay informed on government mandates and the latest pandemic-related news, but you may find yourself wanting to carve out some time each day to tune out what’s happening, at least for a few hours.

Whether on a video call with a friend or socializing with your family at home, there are several conversation starters you can turn to when you are looking to talk about anything but the coronavirus.

No matter who you are speaking with, some mention of the pandemic is likely to come up.

“It’s unrealistic to say it can’t be on the table — it’s like politics at Thanksgiving,” said Diane Gottsman, the founder of the Protocol School of Texas, a company that specializes in corporate etiquette training.

When discussion about the coronavirus comes up, use it as a springboard to steer the conversation back to the person and how he or she is adapting to this new normal, she said. Ask whether the person has developed any new hobbies, learned any new recipes or how he or she is adjusting to working remotely, if applicable.

If you are speaking to someone who won’t stop discussing the news, you can explicitly say you would like a break from that topic, framing it in the terms of your own comfort or anxiety. “Honesty is the best policy. Say, ‘I love talking to you, but we’re talking about the same things, can we talk about something positive instead?’” Ms. Gottsman said.

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“It’s an uphill battle to declare, ‘Hey, we’re not talking about corona!’” said Kelly Williams Brown, an etiquette expert and the author of two how-to guides for millennials. “But people should feel free to say, ‘I hear that you’re scared, I’m scared too, and I’m trying to give myself a break for the next couple hours.’”

Now that many people are staying at home to abide by social-distancing measures, you are likely getting more glimpses of your friends’ and colleagues’ homes during video calls. Notice what’s around the person you are calling and ask questions about whatever you can see in the background, like a painting or a pet, said Susan RoAne, the best-selling author of several books about business networking and socializing.

“I just saw my friend’s kitchen for the first time and I said, ‘Oh my god, I love your cabinets,’” she said. “It gave her an opportunity to give me a house tour.”

If there are children in your household, one way of keeping their minds off the news is to ask them to teach you a skill or show you how they do something. “It could be fourth-grade math, it could be technology-related, it doesn’t matter,” Ms. Gottsman said. “It’s more than keeping them entertained, they can also teach us.”

If your child loves guitar, for example, ask why he or she loves that particular hobby or when he or she started getting into it. “Take that person’s natural skill at using something and ask them to become a teacher, give them a job or a purpose,” Ms. RoAne said. “Say, ‘I’m trying to learn how to do X thing, could you help me?’”

Whatever TV shows, podcasts, music, books or movies you’re making time for right now are great fodder for conversations. “We are living in a golden age of streaming,” Ms. Brown said. “A lot of my conversations lately have been about ‘Tiger King,’ which is the only thing crazier available right now that is legal.”

And if none of your loved ones are consuming the same content, you can join dedicated groups on Facebook and other message boards for just about every aspect of pop culture you might be interested in.

If you’re really struggling to talk about anything besides the coronavirus, try playing games together instead. There are plenty of online gaming options available, like the trivia website Sporcle and apps like Words With Friends. If you are playing with your housemates, use whatever board games, cards or puzzles you may have on hand.

If having more heartfelt conversations about how you’re feeling is comforting, go for it. “It does provoke anxiety, but sometimes it promotes a constant bond, because we actually have an international conversation connecting people,” Ms. RoAne said.

Ms. Brown said, “Everyone is so cracked open right now, I’ve found it very easy to express to people how much I appreciate them and how every conversation feels like a little treat.”

There is no shortage of delightful, wacky stories on the internet right now to draw from and discuss. Penguins are taking “field trips” around closed aquariums. At a zoo in Belgium, a family of orangutans have befriended some otters. Shaggy goats are trotting around a seaside town in Wales. The actor and comedian Jack Black is on TikTok.

If you want to provoke conversation, now is a great time to be extremely online, Ms. Brown said. Start off your conversations by gushing about these more joyful stories. And when all else fails, she said, “baby animal content can always be counted on.”

There are three general “conversation killers” that should be avoided at all costs, Ms. RoAne said. Don’t try to compete with people by saying statements like, “You think you’ve got it bad, I’ve got it worse,” she suggested. Don’t interrupt people, unless it is with enthusiasm for what they have just said. And, finally, don’t correct people’s grammar in front of other people.

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  • How are you dressing for the office or at home now?
  • Have you been working on any projects?
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