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What to Talk about on a First Date: Dos and Don’ts

First-date topics and conversation starters that work

Written by The Blue Ocean Team

The Blue Ocean Team shares case studies, stories and practical insights related to the blue ocean tools and principles developed by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

Forget the usual advice from dating blogs on what to talk about on the first date, the best conversation starters, or what topics to cover. Everybody is reading the same dating advice, so you cannot stand out from the crowd by following the tips.

This blog will cover what to talk about on the first date and what topics to avoid so you can get to the second meeting. More importantly, it will give you a strategy you can use so that your date finds you intriguing, impressive, and worth getting to know more. In blue ocean terms, we’ll quickly show you how to make your competition irrelevant using the Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create Grid and the Strategy Canvas tools.

We introduced you to the ERRC Grid in our blog on first-date tips. Here, we’ll briefly introduce you to another blue ocean tool, the Strategy Canvas, developed by the renowned strategy professors Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Who says you can’t apply business theory to dating!

Take a blue ocean approach to first-date conversation topics and make your competition irrelevant!

First-date conversation starters to eliminate

Stand apart with your first-date conversation starters.

A strategic approach to conversation starters for dating

To stand out from the crowd of other potential contenders your date might be considering, your profile needs to be differentiated. You need to offer unique value that no one else is offering by raising and creating factors that your date will value yet keeping your ‘costs’ low by eliminating factors that don’t add value. That’s where the eliminate-reduce-raise-create (ERRC) grid comes in handy.

In the next sections, we’ll show you how the ERRC grid applies to first-date conversation starters. We’ll eliminate or reduce the topics your date might not find valuable and raise and create first-date topics that will differentiate you from the me-too pool of dating rivals.

At the end of the blog, we’ll show you how following this advice will make your profile divergent from others, and your date will simply have no choice but to find you unique, interesting, and worth subsequent dates. So let’s dive right in.

ELIMINATE

First-date conversation starters to eliminate

While there is nothing wrong with having conversation topics like these on the first date, they are quite common, dare we say boring [yawn]. You’ll have plenty of time to discuss these on your second, third, and fourth dates. So when it comes to first dates, here are four topics that we think are better left unspoken.

Complaints

There are a few reasons why you should never complain on a first date. For one, it can make the other person feel uncomfortable. People generally don’t like complainers because they tend to be negative and pessimistic. They also often make the other person feel uncomfortable or defensive. Plus, complainers can be really draining to be around. If you want to make a good impression on a first date, try to avoid any topics that have you complaining about anything.

Health issues

Health issues can be a bit of a touchy subject, and it’s best to avoid discussing them on a first date. For one, the other person may not be familiar with your health condition, and they may not know how to react. You also don’t want to come across as being weak or helpless. Save the discussion about your health for later on in the relationship.

Your exes

How your date speaks about their previous relationships can be very revealing as to what kind of person he is. But we suggest talking about friends instead, which can reveal just as much. Discussing past relationships can be a sensitive area and usually requires some familiarity with the other person before discussing such topics. Think about it this way, would you like to be a conversation topic of your ex’s first date with someone else? By deflecting to a different topic, even if you’re directly asked by your date about your past relationships, will show you have respect for the person you’ve dated. And being considered a person who shows respect to others, will always be a plus in the eyes of the other person.

Religion

Religion is another topic that’s best left for later on in a relationship. Some people take religion extremely seriously so it’s easy to offend the other person if you don’t know their religious beliefs. You also don’t want to make assumptions about the other person’s religion. Wait until you know them better before discussing this topic, unless of course, your religion is what’s brought you together in some way. Perhaps you met at the local church, for example.

First-date conversation topics shouldn’t get too personal. Keep it light.

REDUCE

What you should talk about less on your first date

You might want to think twice about getting into these topics in too much depth on a first date. There’s no harm in touching on these themes but consider reducing conversation about sensitive areas or cliched questions like, What’s your favorite food? Remember, you’re looking to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Talking about yourself and getting too personal

It’s natural to want to talk about yourself on a first date, but you should try to avoid doing this too much. You don’t want to come across as being self-absorbed. Of course, your date will probably be curious to know at least something about you, so be prepared to speak openly and honestly but don’t get too personal, as it can make the other person feel uncomfortable. It’s better to focus your attention on the other person. By reducing talking about yourself, you’ll come across as more attentive, a good listener, and an empathetic person, which will serve you well in any situation, be it a date or a work environment.

Politics

It’s often said that one should avoid politics with people you don’t know well. Politics is always a tricky subject, and it’s best to avoid it on a first date. You never know what the other person’s political views are, and you could easily end up in a heated argument. If you really can’t help yourself, try to keep the discussion light and respectful. Nevertheless, there will always be time for politics later, so find out what else you have in common.

Food & travel

This might sound counterintuitive as food and travel are very common topics people usually talk about on first dates, but we’ll err on the side of discussing them less. And that’s because if everyone is talking about these topics on their first date, you’ll sound just like everybody else. And the objective here is to stand out from the crowd of me-too dates and present yourself as someone different from the rest and worth getting to know more. And even if the conversation steers toward these subjects, try to make them more interesting by asking unusual questions such as “Have you ever eaten a puffer fish, a poisonous fish that, if not prepared properly, can kill you?” If neither of you has tried it, then it’s a great leeway into the second date. Now you have to try it together.

The ERRC Grid for first-date conversation topics

The ERRC Grid for first-date conversation topics

RAISE

First-date conversation topics you should have more of

When you first meet someone, some standard conversation topics come up because they’re easy to talk about and very relatable. With a bit of creativity, you can make them even more interesting than usual. Take these mundane topics and add a twist to make them more memorable.

Friends

You know the saying, ‘Who you surround yourself with is who you become.” Talking openly about friends on a first date is a safe way to get to know what your date’s character is. Does he/she have many friends or keep a close circle? Are the people he/she surrounds herself/himself a positive influence or anchors dragging him/her down? Do they know each other long time, or are these brief encounters? By having answers to these questions, you’ll get a grasp of your date’s personality, character, and value system.

Work

Talking about work can be beneficial on a first date because it allows you to get to know the other person’s ambitions and career goals. You also have the opportunity to share your own experiences and advice. Just avoid trashing your boss or coworkers, as no one likes to be around a complainer. Raise it up a notch, and suggest creating an imaginary scenario where your date would be in charge of placing his/her friends in various executive roles in a fictional company. Ask him/her to explain the position choices. Through this fun exercise, you’ll get an insight into what kind of characters your date surrounds herself or himself with, how she/he thinks about her friends, is your date a deep or shallow thinker, and what character traits he/she values.

Who you follow on social media

One way to talk about your interests or hobbies without asking a boring question like ‘what are you interested in’ is to ask your date what profiles she/he follows on social media or what podcasts they listen to. Who knows, you might follow the same people! Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, or TikTok, you and your date are almost guaranteed to be present on social media, so you’ll have something to discuss. Come prepared and share something interesting! What were the recent threads or posts you came across where you learned something new? Has anyone you follow shared some useful resources your date might find helpful based on what you already know about him/her? But please, avoid discussing celebrities and related gossip. It doesn’t help in your projection of an intelligent, intriguing, well-rounded person you want your date to find you as.

First-date conversation starters to raise and create

Take your first-date conversation topics to the next level.

CREATE

What to talk about on the first date to stand out from the crowd

Now’s your moment to really shine and stand apart from other me-too dates. Take your conversation to the next level by creating opportunities for conversation your date will appreciate or find surprising and memorable.

Your date

It might seem obvious, but it’s one of the biggest factors in a failed first date: a one-sided conversation. You’d be surprised how many people only talk about themselves on the first date. Remember to focus on talking about the other person by asking them questions and listening to their responses. This way, you’ll not only come across as a good listener but also learn more about their interests, beliefs, and values. This helps you build a connection with the other person and makes them feel appreciated.

Gamify your date

Playing games with your date? We mean it in the literal sense. Play games your date will never forget. You’ll create not only a memorable moment but also learn more about your date. It is an easy and fun way to get to know the other person. And we’re willing to bet your contenders have not suggested that to your date before.

Try “Two truths and a lie” – the basic idea behind this verbal game you can play in a restaurant or coffee shop is to tell two truthful facts about yourself and one lie and have your date guess what is true and what is a lie. You’ll easily find out something unique about your date or at least if they have a cheeky side.

If you follow this strategy, this is how your profile would look like compared to your competition which follows conventional advice about what to talk about on the first date.

The strategy canvas is a key diagnostic and analytical tool of blue ocean strategy that will show you in one simple picture how you compare to your competition. Once we plot the key factors from the ERRC grid on the strategy canvas, you can see how your strategic profile (blue) clearly diverges from the competition (red).

Strategy Canvas for first-date topics

Strategy Canvas for first-date topics

Think about other ways you can stand out from the crowd. What other factors you can create that will make your date dazzled? To blue ocean dates ahead!

Read next:

First Date Tips: How to Have a Successful First Date the Blue Ocean Way

Nine strategic tips for a good first date

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