Use the ‘HEFE’ Method to Strike Up a Conversation

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Participating in a conversation is one thing; knowing how to start a conversation is another. In fact, even if you want to initiate a chat with someone, you may draw a blank trying to figure out what to say. The next time you find yourself in a situation like this, you may want to give the HEFE method a try.

What is the HEFE method?

Similar to the FORD method, the HEFE method provides an easy way of remembering four broad subject areas that can serve as conversation starters. “HEFE” stands for hobbies, entertainment, food, and environment. (In this case, “environment” is referring to your immediate surroundings, as opposed to climate change or conservation.) While the FORD topics (family, occupation, recreation, and dreams) may be useful in some professional settings or with acquaintances, the HEFE method can be especially useful when interacting with strangers.

Examples of questions can include:

Hobbies

  • What do you like to do on the weekends?

  • Are you doing anything fun over the summer?

  • Do you follow or play any sports?

Entertainment

  • What’s your favorite TV show?

  • Have you read any good books lately?

  • What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the past year?

Food

  • Do you like to cook?

  • What’s your favorite thing to cook for other people?

  • If you could have any meal right now, what would it be?

Environment

  • Has this bus ever arrived on time?

  • Is this your first time here since the renovations?

  • Is it always this crowded in here?

“HEFE are low-stakes and immediately accessible everyday topics, so they make initiating a conversation feel less intimidating and awkward,” says Jenny Woo, a cognitive science researcher, the CEO of Mind Brain Emotion and the creator of 52 Essential Conversations. “They don’t require much expertise, and they encourage sharing of opinions and perspectives to help people get to know each other better.”

Additionally, like the FORD topics, those associated with the HEFE method are relatively “safe,” compared to more controversial subjects like religion or politics, according to Mary Ann Covey, a licensed psychologist with Thriveworks. “Safer topics tend to focus on one’s own interests where there are minimal conflicts regarding the facts of the topic,” she says.

The benefits of the HEFE method

Part of the appeal of the HEFE method, Woo says, is that the topics offer a sense of control and predictability. “People with social anxiety can also role-play ahead of time to practice talking about these topics,” she says. Along the same lines, the HEFE topics provide structure to conversations, which, in turn, offer a feeling of security. “Most people with social anxiety fear the awkward silence and don’t know how to fill the silence in a way that doesn’t cause them more anxiety,” Covey says.

According to Mario Palacios, a licensed marriage and family therapist, the “environment” component of HEFE can be especially helpful for someone who feels anxious or at a loss in social situations, because environment is something of an equalizer.

“But the chief benefit for someone with social anxiety to focus on environment is that it takes the focus off of yourself,” he says. “Social anxiety often revolves around a person’s worry about how they will be judged and perceived by others, based on their negative beliefs about themselves. For a person in this situation, making an effort to move the focus away from the self and intentionally placing focus on the shared environment would be a positive.”

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