Lunch Club

Posted on | ~5 mins
conversation communication

I always think about how to make conversations deeper. In college, it was super easy to get to know people well. When I was a visiting student in Harvard, all first-year undergraduates were dining in the same hall. It was for many of them a safe place where they spent three times per day an hour sheltered from stress and worries that come with being a student. People open up, make connections and friendships form, everyone is looking for new people.

At work, people seem to also spend a lot time together, but most of the time is often not leading to a deeper understand or lasting friendship. Out of project, out of mind. Why? Instead of deep discussions, most is small talk in larger groups or just a quick chit chat between meetings. When there are large groups at work, everyone wants to keep their happy-employee-face and the discussion topics are usually neutral (small talk level e.g. company cars, vacations).

I feel that conversations are far more valuable when one gets to know people better on a personal level, when people take off some of their masks and when one can actually make meaningful connections that will last much longer. Everyone has worries, problems, desires, things that they really think - a life (which also causes so many time constraints though).

To put it in a quote from Theodore Zeldin, an Oxford philosopher who has written the book Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives, which I am currently reading:

“If you bring people together from different backgrounds, and encourage them to have a one-on-one conversation in which they take off their masks, share part of their lives, and look through each other’s eyes, then you have created a small moment of equality and mutual understanding. And by multiplying these kinds of conversations, you can produce a microcosmic yet potent form of social change. Think of it as changing the world one conversation at a time.”

Zeldin has also created the conversation dinners, where you get seated with a stranger and in addition to your dinner menu, you also get a conversation menu with 25 topics to talk about. You pick topics and talk in total for about two hours. I was unfortunately not able to find the topics online and the questions at the back of his book seem to me also not ideal to get to know people really well. So I definitely of regret not having known about this during my time there or I would have participated.

I found an example of a small menu (also where I took Zeldin’s quote from) in a PDF on Google, that might be created by (couldn’t find it on their site though). It offers the following questions to choose from:


What band would you choose to create the soundtrack of your life?

What is your first memory of using the internet?

Main Course

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be and why? When was the last time you confronted a major fear?


Are you better at laughter or forgetting? What would the world look like if every one of us is doing what we are meant to do?

Applying that to work settings

At work, I see as the main constraints that people are not willing to open up because they are afraid it might hinder their career if they show that they are also human, the limited time frame and groups.

The first I think can be mitigated if an atmosphere of trust is established. I saw that at work for the first time in an Search Insight Yourself seminar that I attended. Most people did not know each other and also felt very safe that they are not judged or that the information gets leaked to their boss or coworker. People really opened up.

The second can be tackled by taking a whole full hour of lunch and plan it. However, while good questions can make getting to know each other and build a base faster, the key to maintain and deepen those relationships is to have more lunches together. That falls again under the adult-life of having time to do that with one person only every two weeks because there are also other people to catch up, meetings and your team that you should also have lunch with.

Deep conversations happen most likely when only one person speaks to another, so either you have to commit people to split up groups or sit somewhere else to be able to do that.

Conversation Lunch Club

Mixing ideas from Zeldin’s dinners and Fight Club, I propose to have a conversation club with the following rules to make deeper conversations happen.

  1. First rule of Lunch Club is that whatever is said at the lunch club stays at the lunch club.
  2. 2nd rule of the Lunch Club is that whatever is said at the lunch club stays at the lunch club.
  3. You pair with exactly one person during the lunch.
  4. You cannot have the same manager on two levels.
  5. You take at least 60 uninterrupted minutes for lunch.
  6. You get a conversation topic menu which will provide you with conversation topics
  7. If you enjoy it, you schedule a follow up lunch or coffee with the same person outside of lunch club settings.