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9 questions to kickstart meaningful conversations with new people

Ashley Laderer,John Mutziger   

9 questions to kickstart meaningful conversations with new people
  • To get to know someone, ask them questions about their passions and what they are most proud of.
  • Asking questions like "What moment shaped you most this far in life?" can help you understand their values.
  • You can also ask them questions about their childhood, dreams, and more.

When you're trying to make new friends, you may find it difficult to progress the relationship from an acquaintanceship to a deeper connection. Small talk, like learning where someone's from or what they do for work, will only scratch the surface of who they are.

Digging deeper may require some vulnerability, but getting to know a person on a more fundamental level — and sharing in return — is the way to form meaningful friendships. A 2015 study, for example, found that people who reported having deeper conversations had higher friendship satisfaction.

So it's time to get your friends to open up. Here are 11 questions to ask people to get to know them better.

1. "If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?"

This question can reveal where someone stands with their passions or social causes they care about.

"It shows you where they focus their time and energy in understanding the world at large, rather than just their small bubble of experience," says Jennifer Teplin, LCSW, founder and clinical director of Manhattan Wellness.

2. "Who were you closest to growing up?"

Get a peek into someone's childhood by asking about their relationships when they were younger. Learning the answer to this may tell you a lot about their relationship with their family — or lack thereof.

"Families often trigger people and can be painful to talk about. Broadening the scope to encompass anyone can bypass any tension, while also revealing where someone stands with their family," says Marisa Hendrickson LMHC, MA, mental health counselor in private practice.

When you ask questions like this, don't forget to reciprocate and open up in return, especially when your friend has shared something that was difficult for them to talk about. A 2020 paper found that relationships that feature mutual reciprocity are the ones that flourish and result in the most satisfaction.

3. "Where do you feel the most comfortable?"

This will invite someone to share a bit deeper about their social tendencies, which can help you understand how well you relate.

For example, if they feel most comfortable at home they may be more of an introvert whereas if they feel most comfortable out with people, they may be an extrovert.

"When you're getting to know a new friend, you want to know what makes them feel comfortable or where they like to spend their time. This shows you a lot about their hobbies and preferences, without feeling too invasive," says Hendrickson.

4. "Who are your greatest supporters?"

This will give you an idea if they're closer with their friends or their family and if they have a strong support system, or not.

You'll learn if this person is surrounded by others who truly support them, or if they're experiencing life more on their own.

Plus, it's often said that who you surround yourself with is a reflection of who you are as a person. So a person's answer to this question can give you insight into what they value and prioritize more, such as family or friends, says Teplin.

5. "What do you dream about?"

Whether your friend takes this question literally about what they dream when they sleep, or what their goals or fantasies are, you'll get a glimpse into their mind, says Hendrickson.

If they share their dreams for the future, it will give you an idea of what they value and strive for, which may benefit you both.

For example, if you both have similar dreams, such as moving to another country, you can help each other and push one another towards achieving that goal.

6. "When was the last time you were amazed?"

What's amazing to one person may not be to another, and the answer to this question can help you get to know what fascinates your friend, in particular.

Moreover, it could also help guide your friendship and what you enjoy doing together. For example, research suggests that people who are more likely to experience awe are also more open to new experiences and vice versa.

"Finding out whether someone is amazed by a scientific discovery, or by the way rain fell on a flower will tell you how this person views and quantifies the world," says Hendrickson.

7. "What was your happiest moment in life?"

People typically tend to enjoy questions like this because they'll get to relive an exceptionally happy time in their life like when their child was born or when they took that vacation they'd always dreamed of.

"Finding out what they hold dear, memories that were most precious to them is a beautiful moment to share," says Hendrickson.

And sharing happy moments like this early on may set the stage for more shared happy moments later on.

8. "What moment shaped you most this far in life?"

Oftentimes, there are pivotal moments or certain hardships that make people who they are today. Understanding this formative time in a friend's life is very powerful, Teplin says.

Questions like this do require more vulnerability, but a 2020 paper found that cultivating vulnerability –– whether you're the one providing support or receiving it –- is one of the best ways to strengthen a friendship.

9. "What are you most proud of?"

Whether someone's answer is about a career accomplishment, starting a family, or personal growth, you'll better understand someone's core values from this question.

This is important because if a person is most proud of voting for a certain politician or a recent hunting expedition, they may want to discuss and share these activities with you in the future. If you don't share these core values, it may make a friendship difficult to form and maintain.

Insider's takeaway

Bypassing small talk and having more substantial conversations isn't always easy, but once you start having discussions like this with others, the more comfortable you'll feel.

Having meaningful conversations will foster closer friendships, and greater satisfaction.

"There is something extremely powerful about feeling as though you are larger than something outside of just yourself. The world can be very isolating and by fostering deep friendships and meaningful conversations individuals feel empowered, supported and less alone," says Teplin.


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