‘Tis the Season for Practicing People Skills Around the Punch Bowl
Ahh, the holiday party season. It’s a time for gathering with family and friends, and often distant acquaintances and relative strangers. All that mixing and mingling can create anxiety and tension for some, but it doesn’t have to if you follow a few sure-fire tips from the pros for navigating the holiday party scene. Who knows? You might even have a good time and make some new connections.
Why do we find ourselves at a loss for words in such social situations? Although it takes two to tango and to talk, communications experts say your own approach and attitude can play as much a role holding a conversation as the people you are engaging. Imagine you find yourself seated next to Barb from Accounting at the office Christmas party at your work’s New Year’s Eve bash. Rather than view it as an awkward encounter, consider it your shot to shine as a casual conversationalist, and maybe even make new friends.
5 Holiday Party Conversation Tips
Tip #1: Prepare Talking Points
No need to go overboard with scripted remarks, but according to an article in Shape magazine, it can help to have a few topics in mind to help break the ice; such as an interesting anecdote about how you know the party host, humorous holiday stories from the past, or current events that are non-controversial. Steer clear of hot-button issues like politics, religion, sports or anything that ignites passions. Remember, you’re going to a party, not a debate.
Tip #2: Ask Open-Ended Questions
Ever hear the expression “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason”? The Splendid Table says listening is as important to a good conversation as talking. Show you are open to a balanced exchange by asking good questions, paying attention to the answers, and asking follow-ups to demonstrate interest. Instead of asking dead-end questions (“How many children do you have?”), phrase them in a way to foster dialogue (“Tell me about your children.”).
Tip #3: Seek Common Ground
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a good conversation is the lack of common ground, or at least the perception that you have little or nothing in common with the people you encounter in social situations. In reality, you probably have more things to talk about than either of you realize because neither has taken the time to find it. Good holiday party themes include upcoming travel plans and Christmas wish lists. Work, hobbies and bucket lists are useful evergreen topics. Unless there is a major climatic event, talking about the weather is akin to waving the white flag.
Tip #4: Play Conversational Tennis
A nice conversation is a lot like a tennis match; it takes two for it to happen. No matter how many questions you lob into your counterpart’s court, you have to be ready to return a verbal volley in order to have a good match. After they tell you about their job, family, vacation plans, etc., you should be prepared to do the same. If they casually mention a topic that touches on an area of interest, seize the opportunity to take the conversation to the next level. Just as in tennis, you might play a quick set or get involved in a five-set marathon.
Tip #5: Office Party Dos and Don’ts
According to Business Insider, office parties are filled with opportunities and potential pitfalls for employees. It’s not often you get the chance to rub elbows socially with the company CEO or co-workers from different departments, so make a positive impression. While a certain degree of “work talk” might be unavoidable, don’t let it dominate the conversation and turn into a work pity party. Avoid work talk with someone who has had too much eggnog as loose party lips can sink conversations and careers.
5 Holiday Conversation Tidbits
Be Open and Honest: Be prepared to open up and share some aspects about yourself that can foster the conversation. Don’t feel so much pressure to be so interesting that you make up stories or over-exaggerate. Be yourself, and be ready to accept others the same way.
Avoid Conversation Killers: Not only the obvious ones, like politics and religion, but also the boring ones. Go into too much detail about your aunt’s surgery or your stamp collection and you might find yourself talking to the coat rack all evening.
Mix it Up: Don’t go to a party and hide in the safety of the handful of good friends you have there. Instead, seek out people who are interesting and different, even if it’s someone you might see as a non-match, as in someone much older or younger. You might make a new friend.
Speak Body Language: Be mindful that it’s often what you don’t say that can prevent or kill a conversation. Checking your watch, yawning, or standing in the corner with your face buried in your cell phone is a good way to spend an evening alone since you are sending off signals that you don’t want to be engaged.
Don’t Force it: You can follow all the above tips and still strike out with a few party guests. Don’t sweat it. If you get the vibe that the conversation is becoming a one-way exercise with an unwilling or disinterested counterpart, simply bow out gracefully (“Nice to meet you.”) and move on.
One last piece of advice while you’re working on your holiday party conversation skills – don’t forget to relax and have a good time. The best connections will come naturally if you just be yourself!