Those of us who favor small groups and deep conversation over large parties with surface level chatter and loud music might be tempted to dread holiday parties.
We’ll be meeting many people for the first time, answering one of my least favorite questions, and trying to cover those awkward pauses.
On the other hand, parties are an opportunity to start new friendships, learn something new and make someone else feel more comfortable.
What if I told you that the best conversationalists are the people who say the least?
No one enjoys halting, awkward conversation, but almost everyone enjoys talking about themselves. A book tipped me off on this idea a few years ago, and it’s made social situations much more enjoyable for me.
Quieter types can avoid the dread of generating interesting stories or comments if they become expert question askers.
Many introverts despise small talk, another common feature of holiday parties. If you’re the one asking the questions, you can steer the conversation in a more meaningful direction.
Here are a few questions that will leave you in the more comfortable position of listening and nodding:
- How do you and the host know each other?
- Have you lived in Charleston long? (Of course you can modify this to wherever you live.)
- What are you looking forward to in the new year?
A simple question that can’t be answered yes or no is the way to go. It serves as a jumping off point. Their answer will hopefully lend itself to an easy follow up question.
For example, if they moved to Charleston last year, you can ask where from. If they say the host is their neighbor, you can ask if they like the neighborhood or if they work nearby, too.
It boils down to taking a genuine interest in people. It’s easy to keep asking good questions when you truly care about the answers.
I think we’ve all been cornered while someone blathers on about a topic we are completely disinterested in, not even pausing to take a breath or let us get a word in. Don’t be that person.
Pretty much the only thing I know about dancing is that you’re supposed to make the other person look good. I think it’s the same way in conversation.
Serve people by catering to their interests and expertise in settings where you’ve met people before. Give people a chance to talk about something they care about, a hobby they love, their children if you know they have them.
Ask real estate agents where they think the market is headed next year. Ask moms for their best advice for new moms. Ask runners where they like to run, or about a race they recently ran. Ask about an article they posted on Facebook recently. Ask where they got the recipe for the appetizer they brought.
With even just the tiniest piece of information, you can give other people an opportunity to shine. Follow up questions come naturally, and you don’t have to endure awkward pauses or boring small talk.
A few topics to avoid:
- Family: when meeting someone new, you don’t know their background. The holidays can be an especially painful time for people dealing with loneliness, the death of a loved one, divorce, or infertility. Don’t assume everyone has a happy family to spend the holidays with.
- The weather: it’s boring and it’s a dead end conversation because it can only lead to talking about weather in other parts of the country.
- How busy you are: no one cares. The holidays are the busiest time of year for everyone.
What tips do you have?