Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
There is nothing I loathe more than small talk, and the holidays are just about the worst. Probably like many of you, I find myself attending a lot of holiday functions. I’ll go several holiday gatherings for various magazines I write for. I’ll attend my husband’s company party. I’ll drop in on a few open houses for area businesses. And ultimately, I’ll find myself running out of things to talk about at every single one of these functions. Like we need more stress this time of year, am I right?
The reality is, I like to talk to people. I’m naturally curious, and I enjoy asking questions. However, oftentimes I ask the wrong questions. You know the ones: those conversation enders instead of conversation starters. There’s the usual, “What do you do? What part of town do you live in? And do you have kids?” And for me, that last one is the ultimate doozy because I, in fact, do not have kids. So ends that conversation. Oops.
The more I think about it, the more I realize I not only hate asking those typical questions but answering them too. It’s difficult to describe my non-traditional career; it’s hurtful to explain why I’m not going home for the holidays, and it’s boring to talk about the same things over and over again. Who’s with me?!
This holiday season, I’m saying enough is enough when it comes to dreaded holiday small talk. Instead of avoiding it, I’m going to embrace it, thanks to the guidance of Erika Preval. Erika is an Atlanta-based etiquette expert who also owns a modern day charm school. After years working on Wall Street, writing for the likes of Southern Living, and being a personal shopper at Tiffany’s (hello dream job!), Erika knows her stuff when it comes to all things etiquette.
Who doesn’t love hearing something positive about themselves? Preval explained that a tried-and-true way to start a conversation and get someone talking is to say something nice about them. “Compliments are great conversation starters, and with everyone dressed in their finest, you’ll likely have many occasions during the holidays to create an instant connection with the recipient when giving them,” she said. She emphasized that it’s important to think beyond the weather and focus instead on things people like talking about. “Chatting about upcoming travel plans, new restaurants, or even favorite (non-controversial) podcasts are also ways to keep the conversation going,” Preval added.
Recently, a hostess friend of mine said one of her favorite ways to start a conversation is to ask what someone did that day. I love that! Think of all of the answers that will come up in that response. Preval also said to be ready for what’s next. “Be armed with leading follow-up questions,” she explained. “‘Tell me more…’ expresses interest in what you’ve just heard and is a simple way to keep the conversation going.”
As a conversation starts to dwindle, it can become clear it’s time to move on. However, doing so without being awkward is, well, awkward. “When the conversation starts to wane and you’re beginning to feel like the rhythm has been lost, it’s time to move on,” Preval said. “You can graciously exit the conversation with, ‘I’ve really enjoyed catching up with you. Please excuse me…’ or by introducing them to another person who might be a better fit.”
Leaving a conversation to start a new one can also be a bit tricky, but Preval explained there are ways to do so with confidence. “If the group is open, enter with a simple greeting and introduce yourself,” she noted. “If you’ve overheard the subject matter of their current conversation, add to the discussion with your experiences or inquiries. ‘Did I hear you talking about ____? I’ve always wanted to go there. What is the one thing I shouldn’t miss when I visit?’”
It can be tempting to head to the bar as soon as you get to a party, especially to calm your nerves. Avoid the temptation by giving yourself a little confidence–boosting pep-talk. “Often, when you’re employed in an office where co-workers are known to socialize, your interview was likely looking for a fit for both hard and social skills. Find confidence in that and be yourself,” Preval said. Of course, holiday parties are a time for revelry, so imbibing is often expected and anticipated, and that’s OK! However, keep it light, but professional. “If alcohol is present at an event with co-workers, it is OK to join them,” Preval explained. “Know your tolerance and take care to consume beverages that you’re familiar with to avoid unintentionally being over-served.” Another tip? Don’t feel pressured to drink. “A soda with lime, tonic with citrus, or holding the same glass of wine throughout your time together is perfectly fine,” Preval noted.
Ultimately, have fun! Whether you’re slowly sipping on jingle juice or confidently rocking around the Christmas tree, enjoy yourself. Erika’s final piece of advice? “Please don’t enter the event in search of the WiFi password. Unless you’re expecting a call, your phone should be put away at social events. Connect with the people your feet are facing instead those you interact with virtually.” Cheers to a successful holiday party season!
posted by debbiehodge.com
A life skill that many dread simply because they don’t know what to say. Here are starters to get you going.
I like the last sentence. That says it all for me.
For a shy introvert such as myself, walking into a party can feel like trekking across a minefield. What if I don’t know anyone? What if I can’t think of anything to say? Will there be someone for me to talk to?
Even more outgoing individuals can have conversation jitters from time to time and run into the occasional awkward silence. But guess what?! You no longer have to live in fear that you’ll have to resort to, “So what do you do?” ten-plus times in December alone!
We’ve supplied you with everything from phrases to fill conversation lulls to how to get a deep philosophical conversation going in under five minutes. Try out some of these creative conversation starters for any situation and let us know what you think!
Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory? You’ll be surprised to discover that your reserved boss is an avid reader of the National Enquirer and firmly believes that Elvis is living in hiding.
– Did they catch Lincoln’s killer?
– Was Henry Lee Oswald the mastermind behind the JFK assassination?
– Was Bush behind 9/11?
– Did the moon landing really happen?
– Did dinosaurs really exist?
– What do you think happened to the lost city of Roanoke?
– Who built the pyramids, the Egyptians or aliens?
– What’s up with the Bermuda Triangle?
It’s a party, not a job interview! Have fun, be yourself, and don’t worry about whether you’re saying the right thing (whatever that means).
– If you could have any mythical beast as a pet, what would it be?
– Which House would you be sorted into if you were a Hogwarts student? Why?
– If introverts/extroverts/ambiverts ruled the world, what would change?
– If you could choose any period of history to visit, when and where would you go?
– Which famous deceased person would you do shots with?
– You can choose one superpower to have for the rest of your life. What is it?
If there’s one thing that all human beings have in common, it’s the desire to feel valued. Asking someone’s opinion on a topic is like complimenting their entire personality. Here are a few to get you started:
– Why do you think Taylor Swift is so popular?
– Cats or dogs?
– What do you think of the presidential candidates?
– Would you consider Gravity Falls a kids’ show?
– I’d love your opinion on that ______ (new coffee place, superhero movie, etc.).
It’s 2015, the year of “As a ________, this offends me!” I strongly recommend using these around people who like to debate or be exposed to fresh ideas. Hey, why not test the waters with a conversation opener:
– Do you think people are too easily offended these days?
– Which religion brings the most positivity into the world?
– Should children be taught right and wrong?
– Should businesses be allowed to discriminate against certain customers based on religion/sexual orientation/political beliefs, etc.?
– What is the more beneficial method of education: homeschooling or public school?
– Should women/men care about how men/women react to their appearance?
Here’s a secret: The whole purpose of small talk is to get to the meat and potatoes. So why not just cut to the chase and start a convo with one of these thought-provoking questions?
– If you could ask President Obama any question, what would it be?
– What is femininity/masculinity? How do we know?
– Why do we react with disgust when other cultures consume cats and dogs, but we eat cows, fish, pigs, etc. regularly?
– Do you believe reincarnation is possible?
– Why do we feel entitled to judge those in the public eye?
Sometimes the conversation just lulls and things turn awkward. Here are a few more tips for sticky situations:
– Say their name. It’s been said that everyone’s favorite word is their own name. A nice “Hmmm. I’m not sure how to respond to that, Bob!” never hurt anyone.
– Look thoughtful. Nodding your head and staring off into the distance conveys that you’re thinking, not wishing you were somewhere else. Meanwhile, you’ll buy some time to think of what to say next.
– Compliment them. “That is such an excellent argument, I think I’m at a loss for words!”
In my experience the fail-safe approach is to be honest. Do you feel uncomfortable and don’t know who to talk to? Say so! The key here is to deliver each line with a laugh and a grin.
People love connecting over mutual awkwardness (no, seriously), and they’ll be thrilled that they’re not the only one feeling out of place.
– “I know absolutely no one at this party and I’m looking for someone to talk to so that I don’t look as awkward as I feel.”
– “Do you ever show up at a party and wonder what the hell to say?”
– “Hey, I’m Clare! I’m more awkward than Jessica Day and I have no idea how to meet people, so help me out — what’s your name?”
If small talk has got ya feeling all sorts of uncomfortable, I want to share some good news: you are far from alone. Typically, introverts find small talk more difficult. This is because being an introvert means you recharge your energy by being alone. It’s not that you don’t like being around other people, it’s just that social situations drain your internal battery. So for an introvert, small talk with strangers is a little like running your iPhone on full brightness with 1,000 apps open at once while on LTE. That battery is gonna die real quick and when it does, everything gets about 10x more exhausting.
So let’s learn how to cope: How to Turn Awkward Conversations into Meaningful Interactions.