The Art of Conversation


The Art of Conversation

If you have worked with young people, you are well aware that having a conversation can be a challenge.  Often, the standard question of, “How’s it going?” receives little or nothing at all.  If you dare to ask, “How was school?”  You might get an OK, but that is about it.  My take on this is to give them room.  Don’t press them; however, when they start to talk, be ready to participate in the conversation.  Ask some questions, like “Who was your favorite teacher today?”  By asking it in the present tense, you can request that another day and likely will get a different answer.  You can also ask, “What is one thing you learned today that you didn’t know?”

You can develop a list of interesting questions in advance and have them ready in your head when you get them talking.  An essential ingredient in having an artful conversation is ensuring that you don’t give advice or be judgmental.  That will immediately shut young people down.  When you want to share some advice or say that ever awful statement, “You should have . . . ”  or “I would have . . .”  then ask another question, “I wonder why you thought that?”  or “Why do you think it worked out that way?”  To be specific, this gives young people some room for response, and a short answer, like, “I don’t know,” can be met with another question, “But why didn’t they get angry? Or some other qualifying question that presses them to give more than a one or two-word answer.

If you continue to strike out with your young person, give it a break and try again later.  When I run up against a “no go” conversation with a young person, then I like to comment myself, like, “Let’s try to make the best even of difficult situations.”  or maybe make an observation about my day with, “Today was a difficult day with lots of problems to solve.”  Often, they will respond with, “Like what?”  Then you can ease into a conversation that ends up helping them to be positive even when things are difficult.

For more information on asking questions, read my posts here. Parents: Asking Good Questions – Dr. Rich Patterson (; Do You Ask Good Questions? – Dr. Rich Patterson; Value People–Value Questions – Dr. Rich Patterson ( (

Here is a link to inFormED that also speak about asking questions of kids The Importance of Kids Asking Questions | InformED (

Yours for Better Parenting,