12 Tips for Having Intellectual Conversations

Scientifically reviewed by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

“How can I have more intellectual conversations? I want to discuss interesting topics and not end up in shallow small talk”

– Nisha

This is a great question. Let’s look at how you can get into more deep, intelligent conversation topics.

1. Know that you can’t have intellectual conversations with everyone

Some people just aren’t interested in intellectual conversations. Only some of those you come across in life will be.

This guide is about how to figure out who is, and get past the shallow small talk with them so you can transition into more intellectual topics.

I’ll also talk about where to find these people in the first place.

Let’s get to it!

2. Read books and watch documentaries about intellectual topics

To be able to engage in intellectual topics, it helps to have some food for thought. Search Netflix for “critically acclaimed documentaries” or see what books resonate with you.

3. Join a philosophy group

There are plenty of philosophy groups on Meetup.com. Look the prerequisites: Often it’s just reading a chapter in a book, and at other times, there are no prerequisites and there will only be discussions about timeless subjects. Philosophy groups are great for having intellectual conversations but also for practicing your ability to have those conversations in other areas of life.

4. Mention things that interest you and see what resonates with people

How do you take a conversation from small talk to something more meaningful? During small talk, you learn what someone might be interested in. Let’s say that you talk to someone who…

  1. Studied history
  2. Works as a book editor
  3. Likes to read on their free-time

…you can match that with your interests. Read any author you think they might like? Any history events you are interested in?

Bring up things that you assume the person might be interested in based on their answers.

Some things stick (the person becomes engaged and talkative) or it doesn’t stick (the person doesn’t react)

In the case of the book editor, I would do the following to move toward interesting conversation:

  • I would mention the book Sapiens I read a summary of the other day, and see if they’ve read it
  • I would ask what books they’re reading, to see if I’ve read any of them
  • I’d ask what kind of history they’re the most interested in, and see if we have an overlap of interests there
  • I’d ask more about their job as a book editor to figure out what genre they’re in.

Another example. Let’s say that someone…

  1. Studied computer science
  2. Works as a programmer
  3. Likes to game on their free time

I don’t know how to code and I don’t game. But I can make assumptions about other things someone who’s interested in code might also be into.

Then this is what I’d do:

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  • I’m fascinated by predictions about the future, so I’d ask how they think technology will change the world the coming years
  • I’d talk about self-driving cars and autonomous robots
  • I’d see if they’re interested in the concept of the singularity.

See how you can make assumptions about what someone might be interested in, even if you DON’T have the same interests at first glance?

5. Ask the right questions to figure out what someone is interested in

Intellectual conversations start with asking the right questions.

You want to ask questions that help you figure out what someone might be interested in. When you do, you can find mutual interests to make deeper, more substantial and intellectual conversation.

It’s hard to have meaningful conversations before you’ve found your mutual interests.

Here are three universal questions to figure out mutual interests:

  • What do/did you study?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you spend your free time?*

These questions can help you figure out what someone might be interested in. (Don’t fire these questions off in a row, but ask them when it feels natural.)

*The most powerful question here is number 3: What they do in their spare time. It represents people’s interests better than their jobs and studies, but all 3 help paint a picture.

6. Know where to find people who share your interests

Go to Meetup.com and look for groups that you are interested in. You’re more likely to meet people who like intellectual conversations at certain meetups: Philosophy groups, chess clubs, history clubs, politics clubs.

Find people that share your interests. They’re also likely to share your personality.

7. Don’t write off people too soon

Go into conversations with an open mind.

I don’t know how many friendships I’ve missed out on because I wrote the person off too soon.

Not everyone wants to make intelligent conversation. But you need to scout for similarities thoroughly before you can ever know.

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I’ve been surprised many times by the amazing conversations I’ve had with people who I’d first written off. After I asked some probing questions, it turned out that we had a lot of interesting topics to talk about.

8. Dare to open up about yourself to make others do the same

Dare to share small bits and pieces about your own life and interests. Mention a movie you liked, a book you read or some event you went to. That helps people get to know you and they become more likely to start sharing about themselves.

For others to feel comfortable opening up to you about what they’re interested in, you want to share a little bit about yourself between your questions.

Many who may be viewed as being boring aren’t actually boring. They just don’t know how to open up during conversations.

9. Don’t stick to an agenda

At the beginning of this article, I talked about how to move the conversation toward more intellectual topics.

Some tricks can be needed to get past the small talk, read more here about the details of starting a conversation. At the same time, you need to be adaptable and move with the conversation.

There is no need to research an extensive topic prior to talking about it and try to stick to it. This isn’t school, and you aren’t giving a dissertation on the subject.

A conversation is something that takes place between two or more people and no single person is solely responsible for the direction it takes. If someone tries to steer it, it can feel less engaging to others.

10. Be OK with being a student

If the conversation goes somewhere that feels uncomfortable to you, ask yourself why. Often, we get uncomfortable when we end up on a topic we don’t know much about and try to steer the conversation back into what we master.

Dare to keep going. Be open with what you don’t know, and ask sincere questions to learn about it. Be OK with letting someone explain to you a topic you don’t know anything about. It’s fine to mention that you don’t know much about the topic.

Later in the conversation, you might end up talking about something you’re knowledgeable about.

11. Be on the lookout for the deeper layers of a conversation

If your conversation revolves around the take-out food you ordered after your boyfriend broke up with you, ask yourself this, why are you talking about the food?

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Use critical thinking to navigate towards the heart of the matter. In this example, the heart is clearly the breakup.

From there you can share your more personal thoughts like:

  • What happens to a person (you) after a breakup?
  • When does it become a growing experience?
  • What does it mean to be single now?

The deeper layers are often the more interesting ones.

12. Ask “go deeper”- questions

By being an active listener, you can pick up on when people say something that clearly has a deeper meaning within it, and gravitate your questions towards that topic.

Some questions that often take conversations to the next level are:

  • Why do you think that is?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • How do you mean when you say [what they said]?

Don’t be afraid to pinpoint exactly what it was you heard in the conversation that struck you and asks the person to elaborate on it. Most of us appreciate being able to sometimes talk about ourselves. If you try to circle back to something more personal, it will often be met with a positive reaction. Gauge the reaction. If the person it switching topic, it could be that they aren’t in the mood to talk about themselves.

Read more: How to have deep and meaningful conversations.

13. Switch up facts and opinions with thoughts and feelings

The most interesting conversations tend to take place when we discuss a topic we’re interested in and share our own feelings about it. Feelings aren’t opinions. Opinions are easy to share. Feelings stem from our personal stories. That touch of personality adds layers to the facts and opinions.

For example, if you are fascinated by American politics, rather than only talking about the latest news update you could intertwine the fact, your opinion on the fact, and explain why you feel that way.

This gives your conversation partner more information to pull from and move with as your time together unfolds.

14. Explain rather than insisting

When we insist on an experience we had or the feelings we felt because of it, we are limiting the way a conversation can unfold. While it’s certainly fine to say, “The traffic today was awful. I was mad!” It is a better conversation if you explain why you were mad. For example, “I’ve had so much on my mind lately, sitting in traffic was an angering experience. I felt like I was stewing with my thoughts.”

This sentence allows the person your speaking with to ask to follow up questions. They are also going to be interested because there is a bit of you in there. We don’t want to hear about traffic any more than we have to. But when the traffic story entails emotions that are explained, it opens up for intellectual analysis.

15. Don’t only try to make intellectual conversation

Rewarding friendships aren’t about only intellectual conversations or only shallow small talk. They contain a mix. Practice both. It’s fine to make meaningless small talk at times. A few minutes later, you may have a deep conversation, and a few minutes later again, you may be joking. This ability to move between the two can make the relationship more dynamic and fulfill more of our social needs.

16. Examples of intellectual conversation topics

There are countless of intellectual topics. Here are some to give you inspiration for what to talk about

  • Philosophy
  • Historical events
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Astronomy
  • Existentialism
  • The deeper meaning of everyday things like movies or events
  • Analyzing the news
  • Life goals and dreams

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (2)

2 thoughts on “12 Tips for Having Intellectual Conversations”

  1. Please help me out i always wanna try an intellectual conversation with friends on social media and i dont know where to start

    Reply

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