Good Questions for a Good Conversation

Goethe and Charlotte von Stein in conversation.  Author: Anonymous
Goethe and Charlotte von Stein in conversation. Author: Anonymous | Source

Do you remember being part of a group when the conversation became a monologue or simply died?

In such situations, the mood becomes so uncomfortable, that it even feels awkward to leave. The right questions can be the perfect communication tool to prevent or restore this unwanted situation. Good questions make good conversation.

  • People want to talk about themselves and give their opinions, but they want to be asked so that they do not appear pretentious.
  • People also want to hear others talk about themselves and give their opinions; they just don’t want to ask in a manner that makes them seem overly inquisitive.

In a curious conversation (for the purpose of knowing someone better) there are some areas which both questioners and listeners like to explore. Whether the conversation is between two or ten, the challenge is for questioners to be tactful, and for responders to be interesting. As long as people keep talking, people can keep learning and have fun simultaneously.

A well-composed conversation is one in which all are asking questions of each other, listening to learn, and building on each other’s views and stories.

— Jon Mertz

Conversation Topics and Questions

Below are six sample questions on topics people like to talk about. Bear in mind that answers on these topics are opinions. No debate is necessary to determine whether they are wrong or right. Unless there are blatant mistakes with life-threatening consequences, let the conversation roll.

(1) Personal Strengths

  • What type of activity reveals your best performance?

The question seems to be about activities, but gives a chance to highlight skills. They may choose to talk about activities at work, at home, or volunteer efforts. Follow-up questions will be useful to (1) show that you are listening and (2) nudge the responder into a related area you may wish to hear about. This is true for all the questions.

(2) Favorite People

  • Who are some of the folks you really admire?

The responders get to select whom they want to mention: celebrities, people who influenced them, friends or family members. It is wise to give them that opportunity. Imagine asking specifically about parents or teachers when mentioning them brings bad or sad memories.

(3) Favorite Places

  • What are some of the places which have special significance for you?

No need to ask if they have or have not traveled. If they did, they will tell you; if they did not they may talk about places they would like to visit. The question also gives them a chance to talk about familiar places. They may be very proud of their birthplace.

(4) Favorite Causes

Are there any health, charitable, or any other causes you promote or support?

This question may provide opportunity to mention religion and politics, but if the answers become too detailed or uninteresting, steer the conversation with questions about other causes. Stories about personal involvement in causes often lead to mention of accolades and awards. Express commendation.

(5) Values

Photo by Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin
Photo by Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin | Source
  • Some people think that our society is undergoing a change in values. What are your views on that?

The responder has the opportunity to choose which values they want to talk about—the ones they believe in or the ones that are being trampled. The answer may be a window into the personal standing of the responder on issues like etiquette, morality and spirituality.

(6) Hobbies and Interests

  • What have you done lately in the line of hobbies or interests?

Some people have difficulty naming hobbies if they are not presently pursuing interests. “Lately” has no limit on the time period; they can refer to activities as far back as they remember. Still, the answer gives a clue as to what they like, and perhaps the level of their passion.

Guidelines for Good Questions in a Good Conversation

The first suggestion in the table below is demonstrated in the questions above. The others are reminders of what is acceptable in a good conversation. With little effort, they will soon be come a habit.

When It Is Your Turn To Ask
When It Is Your Turn To Answer
Give opportunity for more than one answer category.
Choose your answer from the area most comfortable for you.
Judge from previous answers if you need to change the next one.
Ask permission to change the question slightly if doing that suits you better.
You can ask different people to answer the same question.
Feel free to ask the same question of the person who asked it.
Smile and be pleasant. Don’t sound like you’re giving a quiz for a grade.
Tell a good story. Avoid irrelevant facts and spice up the answer with gestures.
After you ask the question, turn off your cell phone and pay attention to the answer.
While answering, turn off your cell phone; look at the other persons in the group.

What do you think about the "Question by a Student"?

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Benefits of Good Questions

The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

If telling our story makes us feel better, and we think that the other person will feel good hearing it, we have good enough reason to ask a question.

Still, the following benefits are additional good reasons. Both the questioner and responder benefit from good questions which:

  • Sharpen communication skills
  • Steer the conversation in a specific direction
  • Reveal the level of participants' interest
  • Give a clue about conversational attributes like listening, patience and cooperation
  • Clarify matters on questions not asked before.

Not only do they contribute to effective dialogue. At the end of the conversation participants can assess their performance and formulate ways to improve. There is a demand for experts in the art of asking good questions.

© 2013 Dora Isaac Weithers

More by this Author


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Dear MsDora,

What a fantastic topic for a hub here! This is a really useful hub here to keep the conversation going, and it is truly so very awkward when the conversation stops.

Thank you for this interesting and very insightful hub here.

How do you always seem to come up with such interesting topics on which to write? : )

Voted up +++ and sharing

God bless you, Faith Reaper

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Interesting topic, Dora. Bev and I have never had a problem striking up a conversation, but then again we are both interested in people. :)

blessings my friend


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this. As I can no longer talk this article possess a problem.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

what a useful and at the same time entertaining hub Ms Dora voted awesome

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Faith, thank you for your continual support. This article evolved from my frustration in a recent conversation. I did some reflection and some research and Voila!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Bill, you're right. People interested in each other do not need guidelines for good conversation. These help people who hardly know each other. Thank you for your input.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

MHatter, I'm confident that when you do talk, you ask good questions and give good answers. Thank you for all you've said.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Frank, glad you were entertained. Thank you for always reading and commenting.

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sheilamyers 3 years ago

Thanks for the good advice. I'm kind of a shy person and seem to never know how to start a conversation. This is helpful. One of the best tips is to turn off the cell phones. I hate when someone interrupts a conversation to answer the phone unless it's an emergency.

epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Great questions to ask-especially in an awkward situation. That lull in conversation can be painful!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Sheila, always good to hear from you. Glad you found some helpful tips. Cell phones have their place--outside the current conversation.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

EP, you see my point. Thank you for affirming the article.

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

A useful and very interesting hub about Good Questions for a Good Conversation, sometimes when stuck for words it can be most silent and can make one feel nervous you have stated helpful points thanks

L.M. Hosler profile image

L.M. Hosler 3 years ago

Some good ideas here being as I am always one of those people who just don't know what to say to people I don't know well.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

You're welcome, DDE. Please, don't be nervous anymore.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

L.M., hope my suggestions work for you. Practice makes perfect, they say.

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Very interesting topic and useful set of questions to strike a good conversation. Thanks for sharing.

Lastheart profile image

Lastheart 3 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

Very well written MsDora. We all need these hints time to time, even when we think we got them right, because we encounter so many personality each day.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Rajan, thank you for showing up and commenting. I appreciate your support.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Lastheart, you make a very good point. Different people give us different reasons to formulate new questions. Thank you for your clever input.

thelyricwriter profile image

thelyricwriter 3 years ago from West Virginia

MsDora, great information and tips. I've never thought about tips on a great conservation, so I found this article very interesting. I've never been the outgoing type, but I'm sure these questions will find use one day. Well done, voted up, useful, interesting, and shared on FB.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, lyricwriter. Glad you found my article interesting. Hope the suggestions work for you.

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lovedoctor926 3 years ago

I like the question asked by the student. It made me laugh too. I'm going to jot some of these down. Good question to ask others on favorite causes. I agree with #5. There's definitely been a change. voted up useful

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Doc, you could use the student's question if you want to create a laugh. Thank you for your comment.

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

All of these questions are great! I especially like the Conversation Topics and Questions.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thank you Susan. Honored that you stopped by.

Elearn4Life profile image

Elearn4Life 3 years ago

I enjoyed this hub! Much needed topic. Thanks

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Elearn, thank you for your kind comment. I appreciate you.

mathira profile image

mathira 3 years ago from chennai

Making good conversation is an art by itself and you need to have it if you want to be successful in life. Excellent hub, MsDora.

dipsmi profile image

dipsmi 3 years ago from Plymouth, Minnisota

Very interesting hub. Bookmarking it.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Mathi, I know that you're big on conversation in relationships. "Excellent" from you means a lot to me. Thank you.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Dipsmi, so glad that you find the article useful. Thank you for letting me know.

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