7 Smart Conversation Tips

Want to show your date that you’re a keeper? Utter a few of these key phrases to make your sweetie melt... and no, one of them is not “You look great tonight”!

By Laurie Puhn, J.D.

o one ever said date-night conversation was easy. Some of us tend to clam up; others of us yak nonstop due to nerves. But, with some insider advice, you can learn to focus your chit-chat in a way that will have your date seeing you at your very best. All you need are the right words—and no, we’re not talking about overused phrases like “You look great tonight.” The best conversational strategies are far less obvious, which only add to their power. Try floating a few of these key phrases and watch them work their magic.

Key phrase #1: “Tell me more about it”
Congratulations, you two have graduated beyond small talk and have delved into a
Stop trying to fix your date’s problems; instead, encourage them to vent.
meatier topic—namely, a problem she’s struggling with at work or in some other area of her life. You, in a sincere effort to be helpful, offer her a solution. Suddenly, that bonding moment you two were carefully cultivating freezes over as your date icily says, “Well, it’s not that easy...” What happened? In short, you gave unsolicited advice, an all-too-common conversational faux pas—especially for men, who are often accused of trying to “fix” women’s problems. Both genders, however, should take care to hold their tongue at any point they’re tempted to offer a solution. Instead, encourage your date to keep talking by saying, “Tell me more about it.”

We’re not saying you should never share your brilliant ideas; just be sure to give them space to vent for awhile. Then — and this is crucial — ask for their permission with, “Would you like my advice?” If you’ve given your date ample time to get things off their chest, they’ll be more than happy to listen.

Key phrase #2: “What are the reasons for your opinion?”
Oh, no: Your date’s in favor of the war in Iraq. You, on the other hand, have marched in every peace protest within a hundred-mile radius of your hometown. We’re not saying you two are doomed; in fact, butting heads a bit is a great way to get to know each other, not to mention make some sparks fly. So by all means share your opinion—just do so after you’ve asked your date theirs with a diplomatic “What are the reasons for your opinion?” This, my friends, is the difference between an engaging conversation and an instant turn-off.

Key phrase #3: “I never thought of it that way”
Want to make your date’s day? That’s simple: After they’ve explained their viewpoint on anything from a current event to a celeb’s odd behavior, ponder the comment and say, “I never thought of it that way.” Saying this doesn’t mean you think your date is a genius, it merely shows that you’re being influenced by their thoughts and opinions. And once someone senses that you respect their ideas, the ensuing ego boost will keep them coming back for more. (Note: This comment works wonders when combined with key phrase #2.)

Key phrase #4: “That must have upset you”
One moment, the person sitting across from you is ranting non-stop about how her younger brother
Sooner or later, your date may mention an upcoming event. Take note when you hear one and follow up later with a “How did it go?”
borrowed her car and totaled it while speeding. But the minute you try to jump on the bashing bandwagon by saying “Your brother sure sounds like a loose cannon!” or some such, your date suddenly makes an about-face and says, “Actually, my brother has his flaws but he is a great guy. I’m sure you weren’t perfect when you were 22, either.” Is your date schizo? Hardly. The real problem is, you took sides—and insulted someone your date cares for deeply, in spite of the occasional gripes they might have. Stay neutral and say something sympathetic like “That must have upset you,” or “I can understand how that would annoy you.” This way, you show compassion and empathy without hitting any landmines.

Key phrase #5: “How did it go?”
Sooner or later, your date may mention an upcoming event that’s important to them, whether it’s a third-round job interview, a granddad’s triple-bypass operation, or a best friend’s wedding. Take note when you hear them, since they will turn into prime opportunities to show your date you were listening later with a “So how did that interview/surgery/wedding go?” While it may seem obvious to follow up on occurrences like this, they are easy to forget, especially if they’re not of life-and-death magnitude. Or, your date may soon squander your chance by volunteering the information with a “So my interview went well...” Bottom line is, dates do like to be asked about things they’ve mentioned to you already—make a point of ponying up as soon as you see them and they’ll think, “Wow, how thoughtful.”

Key phrase #6: “You are a really generous person”
Many people, especially men, are quick with the compliments: “You have the most gorgeous eyes,” “You look beautiful in that dress.” Your date will love it, at first. But then the compliments wear off and so does their interest in you. What’s going on? Problem is, you’re focused on superficial qualities when people often prefer to be recognized for who they are on the inside. One’s personality, warmth, generosity, compassion—these things are permanent. So try complimenting an internal quality. Say something like, “It was so thoughtful of you to ______ (for example, “go out of your way to meet me here”), or “You are a ______ (fill-in with “caring” “honest,” etc…) person. I really like that about you.”

Key phrase #7: “I really admire that”
Everyone loves to be admired and loves to be around people who admire them. So, look for opportunities to make your date feel proud. If your date shares a story about how he took a risk, switched jobs and ended up in a better position, say something like, “That takes courage. I admire that.” If your date tells you a story about how he or she got a friend out of a bind, say “I admire that kind of loyalty.” How do you know your comments are winning your date over? You’ll see an instant smile.

Laurie Puhn, J.D. is the author of the best-selling book Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life and the founder of She prides herself on keeping her foot out of her mouth and, in an emergency, knowing how to get it out gracefully.
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