The holidays are officially here and more than any other time of year, friends and family will be getting together to eat delicious food, enjoy one another’s company, and maybe even exchange some gifts. For a lot of people, it’s the happiest time of the year. Yet for others, it can also be one of the most uncomfortable…
While it’s nice to spend time with folks you may not be able to see as often as you like, conversations have the potential to turn south around sensitive topics (like politics and religion). Not to mention awkward silences which can be especially painful to sit through when you don’t know what to talk about.
Start with who isn’t there. Consider the people who weren’t able to make it to the gathering you’re attending. Bring up some of the good things they’re doing (avoid gossip) or happenings in their life to engage mutual friends and family. Share what you love about that person with the people around you, and maybe even call them so everyone can say hello.
Engage imaginations. Ask the folks around you to exercise a bit of creativity with some fun questions. If you could be anywhere else celebrating, where would it be and why? What would you do with a million dollars? These types of questions will help you learn even more about the people with whom you’re celebrating the holidays, and may lead to even more engaging conversations.
Compliment almost anything. Telling someone they look nice is a good start, but it can feel generic. Try saying something nice about an item they have with them, perhaps a phone case or purse – anything that speaks to their personality. This type of personal compliment will show that you notice the little things and set the tone for a pleasant time together.
Turn “you” and “me” into “we.” A great way to get conversations rolling is to talk about a common interest. Since you’re all together, chances are you know at least a little about them. Bring up something one or more of the people in the room enjoy that you also like to get the words flowing. Where has everyone been hiking lately? Anybody eat at a great new spot? Any new books you should know about?
Steer clear of “right” and “wrong.” One of the easiest ways to make people uncomfortable is to make them feel incorrect. Try asking questions about the people you’re talking to – Where are you from originally? What was your first job? When did you know you wanted to be a parent? These questions will help you to learn even more about them without putting anyone in a defensive situation.
Use your surroundings. It would be reasonable to assume that the host for your gathering put a lot of work into preparation. Offer compliments about the house or venue where you are. Ask where the flowers came from. Learn the history of a family heirloom. Find out where that interesting piece of furniture came from. Not only will you make your host feel appreciated, but you may learn a tip or two that you can use at your next gathering.
Few things get in the way of fun like awkward silence or frustration, so do your best to avoid them. Take in the time you get to spend with the people you love, cherish the small moments, and create a few memories to tide you over until the next time you gather to celebrate the holidays. Enjoy yourself!