I strike up conversations all the time and it is very interesting, finding out about things I know nothing about...
~ Peter Ackroyd
Tis the holiday season... and with it comes the fun and festivities... friends and family... football and food...
The holidays are a time to gather together and enjoy the company of one another... young and old... at large parties or just simply a small gathering at a friend’s house...
As my office work slows down a bit this time of year, it allows me the opportunity to see friends and family that I otherwise might not find the time for during the busy year.
It pleases me to no end to hear about their upcoming vacation plans, how they like or dislike their new job, and/or what their kids are up to these days...
However... I often find that I may be in the minority when it comes to cocktail party banter...
After one such little party recently, I happened to be talking with one of the other party guests the following day...
When I asked him if he had a good time at the reception, he told me, in no uncertain words, that he would have rather been strapped to a dentist chair for root canal surgery than have to endure another one of these social gatherings...
He explained that he had been cornered several times with guests who seemed to have come to the get-together with a point to make to anyone who would listen.
My friend told me about the small business owner who was ranting about Obamacare and how it would bankrupt his company and country...
... about another guest who wanted to talk about why the minimum wage should be raised because greedy corporations were taking advantage of undereducated minorities and females...
... and yet how another guest who was visibly upset that Christmas today was so commercial and secular instead of a religious celebration as God had intended it to be...
I replied to my sullen friend, "Well you seem to have hit the party trifecta... you got... politics... prejudice... and religion all in one evening... but I blame you for letting it happen."
He looked at me and exclaimed. "I DIDN’T bring up those topics... THEY DID!!"
"Perhaps... but you enabled the conversation instead of politely turning the topic to another subject", I said.
Dinner party conversation can be a mine field... not really knowing how to begin those awkward conversations with people we hardly know... or worse... striking up conversations (under the guise of a few too many drinks) that you’re surely going to regret the following day.
In the holiday spirit, I thought that I would offer a tip to avoid unwanted silence or worse... a heated argument among the guests.
The number one rule of any cocktail party, class reunion or state dinner honoring a foreign dignitary is to be curious.
It is very important to realize that EVERYONE has a story to tell... and on many such occasions... you might actually learn something that you never knew along the way.
Changing the Subject
Asking a lot of questions can also help to direct a conversation from a potentially hazardous topic to one more suitable for casual conversation...
Guest: They should line all those activist judges up in front of a firing squad and get rid of them once and for all.
You: Hmmm... what kinds of guns do you think would do the best job?
Guest: I dunno... I guess maybe military issue M-16s...
You: Wow... you seem to know a lot about guns... are you a sportsman?
Guest: Not really... but I do a little fishing up at the lake every now and then.
You: Really... what kind of fish are up at the lake?... do you like to use flies or bait?... what’s the biggest fish you ever caught?...
In the above dialogue, the conversation started with politics and quickly moved to something a bit more benign like fishing...
When prompted... people like to offer their opinions on almost everything...
Where is your favorite place to go... to eat, to fish, to vacation, to shop?
What is your favorite TV show... your favorite movie... your favorite author?
Do you think that we’ll have a mild winter / summer this year?
Does the local sports team have a chance at winning a championship this year or next?
Who do you think has the best shot at winning an academy award this year? Have you seen any movies that you would nominate if you could?
People also like to talk about themselves, their families and their hobbies.
Do you have any kids?... if so... how old are they and what do they like to do?
How long have you lived in the area?
Do you like sports? What type of music do you like to listen to? Do you speak another language?
After each "what" or "how" question... it’s important to follow it up with a "why" question?
You: So when you’re fishing at the lake do you like using flies or bait?
Guest: I almost always use flies...
You: That’s interesting... so why do you like fly-fishing better than bait-fishing?
Guest: Because I feel like I’m actually doing something instead of just kicking back waiting for the fish to get hungry.
You: So then you like active sports rather than passive sports... do you participate in any other sports?
Guest: I really like to snow ski in the winter.
You: So what is your favorite mountain to ski on?
Guest: I ski at a lot of places... but I really enjoy skiing at Squaw Valley...
You: Really?... why do you enjoy skiing there?
Another ice breaker is to offer up a sincere compliment that puts the other person at ease and allows them to talk about themselves.
You have beautiful eyes... do they come from your mother or father side of the family?
That’s an interesting tie... can I ask where you bought it?
It looks like you are very fit... do you work out quite a bit?
Eventually the person might ask you a question or two... it’s important to remember to answer the questions but use your answers to open the door to additional questions of your conversation partner...
Guest: So do you like skiing as well?
You: I used to ski a lot... but I recently tried snowboarding... have you ever tried to snowboard?
Guest: Yeah... I like to board as well...
You: Since you’ve done both... what do you think the biggest difference is between the two styles?
Anyone can learn to survive the dreaded office holiday party conversations by using a few simple rules:
- Be curious
- Ask a lot of questions
- Stay away from controversy by trying to avoid talking about politics, religion, sex, or social matters. It’s also a good idea to limit shop talk while at company functions... it’s a party... so forget about work for a moment.
- Find ways to change the subject if your conversation partner insists on talking about subjects in item 3 above.
- Be complimentary without being overly flattering.
Follow these few pieces of sage advice and you’ll not only be invited back to the holiday party next year... but your social calendar will be filled all year long...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we are always want to be a part of the conversation and are interested in what you’re talking about.