How to Talk to Adults (and make them love you)

You’re young, educated, well-dressed, tech-savvy, and good-looking.

But nobody takes you seriously—at least, nobody older. And the ones that do give you attention still do so in a mildly patronizing way. Why?

One one hand, you may be a stereotypical millennial: you have face tattoos, you take selfies at funerals, and/or you think tweeting will end world hunger. (Among many other terrible things.)

On the other hand, you may be a relatively normal (and overly polite) millennial. It’s a phenomenon I noticed in college: many of my classmates and I still suffered under the impression that we should speak only when spoken to around older generations (which is the easiest way to bore them in job interviews, meetings, and other adult situations). Sure, we could listen and hold conversations—but nobody knew how to engage. To captivate. To retain the attention of our grown-up counterparts in a way that made them ooh and ahh.

I already had plenty of experience engaging with adults by the time I reached college. In middle school, my dad was a high-ranking member of the Knights of Columbus, which meant that my family got dragged around California every weekend while he visited chapters and attended meetings. These weekends came with a fair degree of awkward socializing: mini-banquets, shopping trips with wives (since meetings were pretty much no-girls-allowed), and mixers in hotel suites.

Literally everyone was over 40 except for my two sisters and me—so we had plenty of adult conversations.

Admittedly, some adults will act patronizing under any circumstances. But for the more reasonable grown-ups in your life, I learned that talking to them requires a simple combination of etiquette and personality. That’s it. Use these five tips to wow almost anyone—including non-adults—in conversation:

People say millennials don't know how to talk to adults--but this guide will point you in the right direction. 1. Make the right impression

Nobody loves a dead-fish handshake, so work on yours. Put your phone in your pocket. Take your finger out of your ear. Stop saying “like.” The usual.

2. Know your surroundings

In other words, know the latest news in the community and in the context of your social group. Not only can you bring up plenty of conversation points, but you’ll just look smarter.

3. Ask about their lives

People love talking about themselves—but for your own sake, only ask them to talk about something that interests both of you. A glazed-over look says that you would rather connect to the nearest wifi network than a real human.

4. Know that you belong

Adult conversations may make you feel out of place. But here’s the shocking truth: you’re an adult too. You are perfectly capable of maintaining your composure and wowing others—and you’re old enough to cut out anyone who doesn’t take you seriously by this time in your life.

5. Sparkle

You don’t have to ooze charm or anything, but you can crack appropriate jokes, have a beer, or mention your love for Taylor Swift if the situation favors it.

Just make yourself more aware of social context—and make yourself interesting. Assuming you have no facial tattoos, you can’t go wrong.

Got any more conversation tips? Leave a comment below!


  1. says

    Good advice, but also please remember that if a 40 something is rude or not giving you the attention that you are giving the conversation, then walk away.

    Conversation takes two, and it also takes politeness on the part of both parties.

    I have a 18 y/o and 12 y/o who can both hold successful conversations with adults. That said I have had to teach them that if an adult is rude and does not give them the time of day, that have the right to end the conversation and move on.

    • gradgirl says

      Absolutely! Once you reach adulthood, nobody’s forcing you to talk to anyone and you have more power to shape your social circle. Young people can always use that extra reminder. :) Thanks so much for reading!

  2. says

    I have a 13 year old who can hold a conversation beautifully. Like you it comes from being in situations with someone outside of her peer group. A key to success for everyone! Stretch out.

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