If you’re hoping to get to know someone a little better, talking to them is a good start. A simple conversation with a stranger could lead to a beautiful friendship or even a life-long relationship. Being careful about what you say to a stranger is a good step towards getting to know them better on good terms. It would be counterproductive if you got into an argument just because you brought up a sensitive or taboo topic.
If you’re trying to avoid sensitive or awkward topics when talking to strangers, you are going to have to be a lot more careful than you think. Most people know that the top 3 topics to avoid are sex, religion and politics, but it goes a lot deeper than that. Let’s take a closer look at many of the topics to be avoided when talking to strangers below.
15 topics you should avoid when talking to strangers:
If you’re talking to a group of strangers and approach the topic of race and racism, you really have no idea which way the conversation is going to go. Issues of race are often something close to a person’s heart, and even the most balanced seeming of people could shock and surprise you with their outlook on matters relating to race. Perhaps your outlook clashes with the stranger’s outlook; then what?
If you want to have peace of mind that the conversation you have is going to go smoothly, avoid talking about issues of race and racism.
2. Police violence against minorities.
Minority groups and their causes or belief systems can often stir up emotions. There’s a definite divide between people who are for or against such groups. You never know if someone is going to sympathize with a minority group or go to the opposite extreme and oppose them strongly. Either way, bringing it up in conversation with strangers could lead to an unpleasant response or hard feelings.
Religion has a way of sneaking up in a conversation because it is something that affects us so deeply and personally. When it comes to religion, you don’t want to talk to a stranger about the role of religion in everyday life, religion in schools, churches that are exempt from taxes, and the limitations that certain religions can impose on people. If you want to avoid causing upset or hurt feelings during a conversation with strangers, avoid the topic of religion with strangers altogether.
4. Sexual orientation.
How someone identifies sexually is a very sensitive topic indeed. Someone who is already struggling with their own gender identification may have a reaction to the topic of sexual orientation that takes the interaction down to a completely unexpected path. It’s best to respect that people identify in whichever way they do and to not bring up the concept of gender and sexual issues at all.
Unless you want to get into a heated debate, political issues should be avoided at all costs when communicating with strangers. Political affiliations and preferences have the ability to set two of even the nicest people against each other. It is best to avoid political topics until you know people a little better. When you know someone better, you will find that you respect their political views (even if you don’t agree with them) with greater ease than if you didn’t know them at all.
6. Drug use or addiction.
You simply never know what someone is dealing with personally in their lives. The stranger you are talking to might have a personal drug addiction issue they are dealing with, or even a loved one may be working through such a difficulty. Even if you have very strong views about drug use and those who are addicted to substances, it is best to keep your opinions to yourself until you know the situation with the stranger a little better.
7. Environmental issues.
Who would have thought that environmental issues, something that affects each and every one of us, is actually considered a taboo conversation topic with strangers, but alas, it is! The topics of global warming, animal agriculture, the Amazon rain forests, pesticides, global development – all of these topics can be a cause of anger, upset, and much-heated debate. Obviously, this is not the path you want to take when first communicating with strangers.
8. Diet preferences (veganism vs. carnism).
Talking to someone about what they choose to eat can be a very sensitive topic indeed. Someone who eats meat doesn’t want to be told that veganism is the only way forward and vice versa. Someone who is allergic to gluten doesn’t want to be told that you don’t believe gluten intolerance exists. If you want the conversation to flow easily, it’s probably best to leave diet off the list of conversation topics.
9. Personal finances.
Money is a very sensitive topic for some people. For others, it can be a way to show off. Either way, it can cause people to get the very wrong sense or idea of each other. Avoid asking someone how much they earn or telling them how much you do. Avoid talking about debt and money matters in a relationship unless you want tempers to flare or deep, heated debates to ensue.
10. Divorce or breakups.
Everyone has gone through a bad breakup somewhere along the line, and many people have had a messy divorce. That being said, your experience leads you to personal views and beliefs about breakups and divorce, which may completely oppose the views and ideas of the strangers you are talking to. Tread it lightly when it comes to matters that pertain to someone’s divorce or split up. Relationship matters should be off the table until you know each other a little better.
Even if you have personal experience with abortion or the loss of a child, this is a topic that has no place in an interaction with strangers. Abortion is a topic that can make anyone really uncomfortable. If this topic comes up, try to change the subject or minimize your input. Nothing good can come from it.
12. Gender-based violence.
While this is a topic that we should all be comfortable enough to talk about openly, it just isn’t. Women feel strongly about gender-based violence, men can feel attacked by the mere mention of it, and there’s a lot of room for both sides to take offense or get upset. While this is a definite topic to talk to close friends and family about, it’s something to be avoided when talking to strangers.
Unless you have been an actual victim of rape, understanding of the issue can be limited. Rape isn’t something that should be avoided or overlooked, but it’s a topic reserved for people you are close to and not strangers.
14. Health issues.
You might think that it would be interesting for strangers to hear all about your latest health afflictions, but it will probably just make them feel vaguely uncomfortable. If you have health issues you are concerned about, it is best to discuss them with a loved one or close friend. With strangers, the conversation should be kept light.
It might be exciting to share snippets of hot gossip with people you have just met, but remember that you don’t know how people might be connected. You might “put your foot in it” by saying something out of line that gets back to the person you are gossiping about. Also, gossiping on first meetings makes a bad impression of who you are and what you are about. Be careful with gossip – nothing good can come of it.
All things considered
You might think that this doesn’t leave you with very much to talk about at all, but you will be surprised at how much easier the conversation will flow when the awkward topics are taken off the table. When someone feels completely comfortable in your presence, conversations will last a lot longer. When you get to know each other a bit better, you may be able to approach the more sensitive topics.
With that in mind, if you’re entering into communications with strangers, it is best to keep the conversation light and the topics easy. If you are hoping to build stronger or deeper connections where you can talk about anything, remember that these things take time. If your relationship with these strangers develops, you can work your way up to a better understanding and respect for each other, which very often means that topic taboos are no longer necessary.