How to Have Better Group Conversations

Kathryn HaydonDeep Souls

How to Have Better Group Conversations

By Kathryn P. Haydon

Deep Souls

Summer cookouts, concerts, and gatherings at the beach are back. Graduation celebrations, weddings, and funerals are in full swing.

After a year and a half in near-isolation, even the most introverted among us are longing to be in groups again. While alone time can provide for quiet reflection and peace, human connection yields a type of love and joy that can’t be found elsewhere.

So when that barbecue invite shows up in your mailbox, you’re ready to RSVP “yes!” without hesitation. It’s exhilarating to change out of your sweatpants and into your party clothes. Your stomach flutters excitedly as you step onto your neighbor’s patio, appetizer dish in hand. It’s a perfect summer evening, and niceties are exchanged. 

Then, suddenly, it all comes flooding back. You have found yourself once again in The Deck Stain Conversation. 

Let me explain. One summer, at every gathering my friend David attended, people were talking about the color they were planning to stain their decks. They might have expanded into deck materials, staining processes, and vendors, but nevertheless the conversations remained in the realm of deck rehabbing and similarly narrow topics. 

Though he himself enjoys fix-it projects and parties, David found over and over again that party conversations were happening on this superficial level. He was bored with them and came to a point when he preferred to avoid potential Deck Stain Conversation parties altogether.  

The Deck Stain Conversation does not have to explicitly include talk about deck stain or house remodeling. It is a term for a type of conversation that is surface-level, unchallenging to the imagination, and boring. It is a routine conversation that feels repetitive and overused, like discussing the weather. It doesn’t really help you get to know the people around you on a deeper level and is often a filler when people don’t have anything meaningful to talk about. 

The Deck Stain Conversation dominates at parties, making life particularly difficult for deep souls who feel like fish out of water in surface-level settings. 

The good news is that there is something you can do to make this year’s summer party conversations better than ever before. You can be the leader to break through the barrier of surface conversations to bring more meaning and humanity to gatherings. 

Here’s the key: Whenever you encounter The Deck Stain Conversation, recognize that the missing element is creativity and imagination. So your job is to add that dimension, raising the conversation to a new level of thoughtfulness. To be more specific, you can frame questions to tap into inspiration, problem solving, and original thinking

Here’s how to deepen the topics typical of party conversations, one by one: 

House projects. If you find yourself in a literal Deck Stain Conversation, or anything about house projects and renovations, get people talking about the problem solving they employed in the process with a question like this: 

What is the most innovative home improvement solution you’ve implemented, either in this recent fix-it project or in the past? 

Sports. Sports is a conversation that typically dominates at cookouts and gatherings. It can be interesting and challenging for those who remember stats and strategic plays, but the rest of us might tune out after offering supportive words for our favorite team. Here’s a question to ask to draw out a dimension of creativity in a sports-related conversation: 

What have been the most original sports moves that you’ve witnessed (or performed yourself)? Which teams are most innovative in their approach?

Kids. What grade is your kid in? What sports does she play? What college is she looking at? These questions may help you to get to know someone’s context, but they tend to quickly go the way of Deck Stain. With the right question, you can add the dimension of originality to the conversation: 

What is the most positively unique characteristic, talent, or interest of each of your kids? 

My dad likes to tell jokes. It seems that he has a joke to tie into any topic. He probably has hundreds in his mental library. But he did not start out this way. My mom reports that when they were on double dates with friends, he’d quietly pull a notecard out of his lapel pocket to read his joke bullet points so he’d get the story right. No joke. So if you feel like it’s easy to forget depth-provoking questions like these in the moment, write them down in your phone or on a notecard in your pocket. You will be happy to have them when you encounter the next episode of The Deck Stain Conversation!


Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.

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