As a therapist, I am trained to get to know people in deep and meaningful ways. This is great for work and intimate relationships, but not so great for holiday party small-talk.
I love to ask people deep questions and hear them reflect on their choices, their motivations, their lives, essentially. But, many people find this inappropriate party conversation…or so I’m told. *Shrugs shoulders*.
So, what are appropriate, yet still interesting ways to converse with acquaintances (and yes extended family members can be just acquaintances) during this season of holiday gatherings? The trick is to think outside the box, and I credit my extroverted and professional interviewer husband for the inspiration here.
Here are some tools for your next holiday get-together, to get your creative conversation juices flowing:
Observe. When it comes to small talk, playfulness and presence are key. What’s happening right now in front of you and your conversation partner? Can you observe something silly, random, sweet, or ridiculous and then share that moment together? Even better, make it an inside joke for the rest of the party. Is the food truly horrible? Is Granny pouring herself yet another glass of mulled wine? Are the children playing some imaginative game that has you cracking up? Take a look around and see what might be low-hanging conversational fruit.
Compliment. Another option is to observe something about your conversation partner that you can compliment – a new haircut, a shirt that brings out their eyes, a generous or thoughtful interaction you observed them having. If they have children, complimenting their kiddos is an easy in – find something specific to say like, “Wow, Jimmy has such a big smile!” Or “Claire has grown so much since I last saw her.” Parents will (usually) happily talk about their children, which allows for openings into other conversation paths.
Share. If it’s appropriate, start with something about you. “I’m so excited to get a few days off right now – we’re working on this project that is keeping me up nights!” Or “I’ve started this new show, The Great British Bake Off, have you heard of it?” This opens the door, and often that’s all you need to get going on some thread.
Be curious. One of your best tools is to simply remain in a stance of curiosity and encourage the other person to talk. I frequently find that most people are dying to talk about themselves. “How is your work/pet/family?” Or “Have you traveled much this year?” Or “What are you watching/reading/listening to these days?” Let them share, and continue to be curious…”what do you like about that? When did you get into it?” This sort of stance reminds me of a toddler, honestly. “Why, why, why?” In small doses, and in an adult conversation, this sort of question is actually quite useful.
Or, if it just isn’t your thing, find other ways of participating in the party. Help out in the kitchen, play with the children, be the DJ, or find that one other deep dark person at the party and park it in front of the fire and go to town on the deep dark conversations you love having. Or is that just me??