Hierarchy of Conversation

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Ever wonder why in some instances a conversation is incredibly engaging and at other times you just want to punch the person talking?  Why some conversations seem absurdly dry while others have you entranced, wondering where the time went?  Typically when speaking with an individual or a group of people, you generally speak about one of three things: people, events, or ideas.

There are always appropriate scenarios to discuss people, events, and ideas.  But I believe our buddy Eleanor Roosevelt is onto something.  Let’s dig a little deeper.

Talking About People

According to Eleanor Roosevelt if you find yourself talking about people all day you’re a “small mind”.  Congratulations give yourself a pat on the back!

In all seriousness though talking about people isn’t the worst thing, as long as you’re talking about others for the right reasons.  Unfortunately people spend a lot of time talking about people, famous or not, for the wrong reasons.  One of the not so pleasant conversations is discussing those who rub you the wrong way.  You might tend to gossip or say things about somebody, that if present, they would not appreciate.  On the flip side you may talk about people because, wait for it……your life isn’t that interesting.  By talking about other people in some instances, you are vicariously living your life through others.  Waking up each day dying to know what’s new in the life of Beyoncé is not good use of your time or your life.

Talking About Events

Alright so you’ve realized talking about people isn’t necessarily the most productive conversation.  Now it’s time to talk events.  Events include such things as historical events, personal experiences, and current events.  Discussing events, in many instances, includes people.  Instead of talking about people though, we are discussing the dynamics between people that make up the event.  Now we’re talking multilayered concepts.  This includes people and their actions that make up the event.  It’s interesting to discuss with others how past events, whether personal or historical, influence our current lives.

Talking About Ideas

This is the holy grail of conversation.  If you really want to understand somebody’s true values and how they see the world, discuss ideas.  What exactly do I mean by ideas?  Basically ideas are things that are intangible.  An easy way to get to an idea is by asking the “why?”.  There are tons of examples: Why do people do bad things?  Why did Kanye West interrupt Taylor Swift at the VMAs?  Why is Game of Thrones the most popular show?

The beauty of discussing ideas is it’s completely subjective.  There is no right answer to answering why people do bad things.  Therefore there is no obvious end to the conversation.  That’s why we’ve been discussing these same concepts for generations.  If there was a definitive answer we’d all agree and that’d be the end of it.  Best of all, discussing ideas reveals a lot about the motives, values, and purpose of the people you’re speaking with.  It’s a great way to reveal what makes those around you tick.


Whether you’re at the family dinner table, out with friends, or on a first date, it’s a good exercise to think about what types of things you talk about.   Talking about people and events are a safe bet, but discussing ideas push us to better understand the world around us.  While it may seem beneficial to jump straight to discussing ideas,  it’s important to know your audience and gauge what level of conversation is appropriate at a given time.  A good strategy is breaking the ice by discussing people and events.  Once you feel the conversation flowing, begin asking the “why” and spark conversations that get to the deepest levels.

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