Want More Meaningful Conversations? Try the Five-Minute Rule

02/25/2011 09:19 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It started out as an inside joke between a group of friends, all Baby Boomers, when we found ourselves all too often talking about our latest aches and pains. Being close friends, we laughed at ourselves, saying, "How about we put a limit of five minutes on the time we spend talking about our suffering body parts, so that we can move on to discussing other more enjoyable matters?" We all agreed and affectionately created what we now call the "Five-Minute Rule."

Over time, I noticed that our idea caught on with others who heard about it. My in-laws, both in their 90s, say they use the rule at their assisted living facility. "When everyone starts talking about all that morbid stuff, we remind each other about your Five-Minute Rule." My 33-year-old step-son and his wife tell me it works wonders with their friends after they take turns listing their kid's latest accomplishments -- first steps, smiles, burps and so on. Even my younger children, who range in age from 18 to 23, say it's especially useful when it comes to sharing dating dramas. My daughter says, "I hate to admit it, but your Five-Minute Rule keeps us from going on about relationship minutia." Whatever your age, limiting conversation on topics we tend to go on and on about serves us all. No one gets bored. No one has to interrupt. And no one needs to say, "How about we talk about something less depressing, more interesting and maybe even a bit more meaningful?"

You see, this is not about eliminating the "enough about you" conversations -- everyone from every generation needs some time to get those topics off their chests. Nor is it about one generation rolling its eyes at another -- we were all that young once, and we will all be that old some day. Besides, everyone needs to complain and boast at least once in a while. It's more about keeping an eye on the clock when we gather together -- Millennials at sports bars, Gen X'ers at playgrounds, Boomers at fundraisers, Seniors at nursing facilities -- so we don't get carried away talking about topics we mutually decide we have heard enough about.

So have some fun with the list below. It includes a short description of the age groups with whom I have spoken to about the Five-Minute Rule, followed by the topics to which they most often suggest the rule would best apply. Try them out. They can become your group's inside joke. You might find that your conversations become more enjoyable.

Senior Citizens. They were born prior to 1925 and are now 85 or older. They came of age during the Great Depression, pre-World War II. They are living longer with greater economic security and are in better health than were their forebears. Their major challenge is maintaining good quality lives. The topics they want to apply the Five-Minute Rule to include:

  • Terrible funerals
  • Great eulogies
  • Medical costs
  • Long E.R. waits
  • Successful children
  • Grandchildren who don't visit
  • "Remember when we walked barefoot in the snow?"

The Civics or Greatest Generation. They were born between 1925 and 1945 and are now aged 65-85. Sometimes called "Masters of the American Dream," they came of age during the post-Depression and World War II era. They are the last generation who can count on retirement support by our traditional pension system. They say they'd like a limit on how often they talk and hear about:

  • Aching knees
  • Aching hips
  • The new knee!
  • The new hip!
  • Kids who should take a job, any job
  • Retirement dreams
  • Retirement fears
  • "Remember when everyone listened to Frank Sinatra?"

Baby Boomers. They were born between 1946 and 1964 and are now aged 46-64. 78 million strong, raised during a time of extreme optimism, opportunity and job security, their anthem was to be "forever young." Yet even they want to limit how often they and their friends talk about:

  • Sags, bags and all that droops
  • Botox, Viagra and all that keeps things up
  • Kids who won't move out
  • Marriages that won't last once they do
  • Technology that changes as soon as it's mastered
  • "Remember when we heard Frank Zappa?"

Gen X'ers. They were born between 1965 and 1979 and are now aged 31-45. The smallest generation in modern American history, they grew up in families with rising divorce rates, downsizing and in a high-tech/media driven culture. The topics they apply the Five-Minute Rule includeL

  • Josh's chess awards
  • Sally's soccer trophies
  • Jessie's home run
  • Sleepless nights, too tired for sex
  • Sleeping through the night, too busy for sex
  • Having one more kid, moving to the suburbs
  • Staying put with one too many already
  • "Remember when we listened to rap instead of Raffi?"

Millennials or Gen Y'ers. They were born after 1980 and are now under 30. The largest, most diverse and educated generation in American history, they demonstrate great self-confidence and the desire to have an impact on their fragile environment. Reared on social networking, they don't engage in as many face to face interaction as previous generations. But when they do talk, they want the Five-Minute Rule placed on:

  • Hookups
  • Breakups
  • Relationships that never work out
  • Finding meaningful jobs that pay well but aren't nine-to-five
  • E-mails, texts and tweets, but no time to talk
  • "Remember five-day music festivals, no sleep and still passing final exams?"

The Five-Minute Rule may have started as a joke, but the need for good conversation is a serious matter. Friends squeeze in half-hour chats over coffee or a drink. Parents fit in time together between kids, work and working out. Even family dinners are becoming a thing of the past. And with electronic communication replacing even the casual phone call, face-to-face interaction is a luxury we can no longer take for granted. When it does take place, it rarely happens without someone pulling out a blackberry to check on a text or e-mail. Conversation is an endangered species worth trying to save, and the Five-Minute Rule may just help. Try using it next time you are with your friends to see how it works. You may look back and realize you are having more memorable discussions about the things that really matter to you.

What topics would you add to the Five-Minute Rule?


Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She has written articles on beauty, aging, media, models and dancers. She serves as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), written with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D., and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. For more information, please visit