How to Find Common Ground Fast

how to find common groundFinding common ground is one of the fastest ways to build a feeling of warmth. It’s how we establish familiarity with people we’ve just met. It’s also a surprisingly good way to restore feelings of connection with an existing partner.

But how do you find new common ground with someone you already know?

Even if you know someone really well, there are always new things to learn. The trick to getting to know someone better is to find out what you have in common. Here’s an easy way to do just that.

1.What’s your favorite thing that happened in the past week?

Invite him to play a ‘free association game’ that starts like this. You ask him this question: What’s your favorite thing that happened in the past week? There’s no right or wrong answer, so there’s no pressure.

You listen to his answer. This is important. Really listen.

When he’s done, share any connections you have with his memory. That’s what free association is.

For example, if he mentions a slice of apple pie he had at a certain diner, and you’ve been to that same diner with friends, you mention that you’ve been there but that you never tried the apple pie.

how to find common groundYour comment about being at the diner with friends sparks a memory about his own group of friends. He mentions whatever memory came up. The conversation spirals from there, taking unexpected twists and turns.

When you run out of associations, just go back to the root question but change it a bit. Instead of his favorite thing from the last week, ask about the last month. The last year. The last ten years.

The great thing about this is you don’t have to control the conversation to make it interesting. Just go with the flow and let the conversation grow organically. You’ll discover all kinds of new things about each other.

1.What are your pet peeves?

This is another great free association technique. It’s a lot like the first, but the question is pointed in an entirely different direction. Ask him what really frustrating experience he’s had recently. Or ask about the little things he encounters in everyday life that really get under his skin.

While this does take the conversation in a negative direction, you can keep it light-hearted by focusing on trivial annoyances. Stuff like his pet peeves, not his life’s most tragic moments.

Complaining about hardships, even little ones, is a super-fast way to build a connection. It’s like you have a shared enemy. There’s even science to back this one up. Research has consistently shown that establishing a shared enemy is one of the quickest ways to get people to bond.

1.Where have you been?

When you put someone on the spot by asking common questions like what hobbies they have or what they’re into, you’ll most likely get stale answers. It’s hard to think of the really important things with those kinds of questions. There’s nothing to guide your thoughts.

But the timeline of your life serves as a pretty good mental bridge. So try asking him where he’s been. The process of describing vacations or places you’ve lived brings back all kinds of memories.

When we share our traveling experiences, it conjures up all kinds of visual reminders. Those reminders make it easy to remember what was important to you at the time. The things you were passionate about. The things that led you to those places to begin with.

This question isn’t about the destinations at all. It’s about the memories associated with those places. Those memories reveal a lot about a person.

All three of these techniques can be used casually without a lot of planning or fuss. Because they’re light-hearted, you can introduce them as a conversational game over dinner or out on a walk. Give them a try and then enjoy the process of discovery that follows.


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9 thoughts on “How to Find Common Ground Fast

  1. Karen said:

    I always thought of myself as a terrible conversationalist and attributed it to my shyness and being anti-social. I always felt awkward answering the typical get-to-know you questions like What are you into? So when you explained why they’re hard to answer, I was very relieved. Thank you James!

    • James Bauer said:

      I’m glad that helped, Karen.

  2. bernadette said:

    James, thanks for some assistance on, what I call small talk. I am really not good at it. I must admit, I don’t enjoy it either. I like your incite into conversation starters. It is also good for an already established relationship to keep things fresh and to learn something new about each other. I would love some other tips if your have any. Communication is always the key, how you present it . Is that right James? Your the best! Thanks for your help.

    • James Bauer said:

      I’m glad you found this topic helpful, Bernadette. If you’re interested in more of my insights on this topic, you might consider accessing my special report on conversations men tend to enjoy. If you’re interested in that related topic you can find it here.

  3. Julia said:

    Great article, James! πŸ™‚ I loved the three topics, and I will surely use them!

    I do have a bit of trouble understanding how to balance this with not interrupting. πŸ™‚ I’m a pretty extroverted and very talkative person, and whenever someone tells such a story, my natural tendency is to jump in with free associations. I have to reign it in a lot, because cutting them off so that *I* can talk… would be just rude (and disrespectful, right?). But then I sometimes tend to reign it in too much… Case in point: I had a very nice date yesterday, with a new guy. He kept talking and talking and TALKING (I guess, because he was pretty nervous, haha), and I kept listening and listening, and forcing myself not to disrespect him by interrupting him too much. It felt stressful, frankly. So what’s a good measure for blending free associations and holding your own part of the conversation, while remaining respectful?

    • James Bauer said:

      The good that’s a good question, Julia. I would say the most important thing to focus on is the nonverbal indicators that tell you whether he is searching for things to talk about versus really being in the flow of communicating a string of thoughts with you and very much appreciating your receptive listening year.

      • Julia said:

        Hmmmmm, excellent point, James! I will make a point of observing that. Thank you!!!!

  4. Jane said:

    About the non-stop talking, I am thinking of a guy I really like, who shows signs of liking me, who can talk and talk on just one subject, and very interestingly, but who talks too long. I have learnt about all sorts of things just by listening, and I think he does it to connect and to fill the silence and possibly because he is a very sociable person who works in a solitary job. He does notice what I say, very much, it is not like he only likes the sound of his own voice. I think, like your previous messenger said of her date, he is nervous, I hadn’t thought of that before. The other evening he picked up on a topic my son was interested in and then talked about it to him rather than with him and again for too long. I think he is trying to connect because it feels like something I have done myself previously particularly when I wanted to be accepted or impress. But, beyond a certain point it doesn’t connect, in fact it forms a barrier. It has the effect of keeping me at a distance. I wish there was some way I could influence him to talk just a little less. Thanks James for all your posts.

    • James Bauer said:

      I see what you mean, Jane. Also, it’s possible he just has a bit of a social blind spot in that one area. Some people don’t realize the impact of non-stop talking.

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