It’s the season of mingling and celebrating. That time of year when you may be attending holiday parties, family dinners and the company celebration. If these events fill you with dread, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with socializing with strangers or people they don’t know well even if they are family or coworkers. But small talk does not need to be challenging. Using a few tactics will make your conversations much easier.
Listen more than talk
Growing up, my dad taught me that the best conversationalists are the best listeners. Think about it. Have you ever walked away from a conversation with someone where you felt great about yourself? A conversation where you felt the other person was really interested in you? Most likely that person showed a sincere interest in you by asking questions that drew you out. You can do this too. If you are truly curious and interested in someone and ask good questions, people typically feel special and that they matter to you. They then open up more, which makes conversation easier.
Ask open ended questions
To find something you have in common with the person you’re talking to ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Rather than asking “Do you like living in Seattle?” Ask, “What do you like about living in Seattle.” You’ll get much more information from the person which will make it easier to have more to talk about.
Have some questions in mind
Before the event you’re attending think of questions you could ask people you meet. Here are some great ones for this time of year:
- How do you like to celebrate the holidays?
- What’s a favorite childhood holiday memory?
- What are some family holiday traditions you follow?
- What was the best thing that happened to you this year?
- What are you looking forward to next year?
In addition to thinking of questions you could ask others, think about topics you could discuss when asked “how are you?” Rather than responding, “I’m busy,” which does nothing to contribute to conversation, talk about something you’re working on or are excited about. Maybe it’s a project at work that you’re really enjoying, or, perhaps you have a vacation planned that you’re excited about. You could talk about a volunteer commitment that you’re passionate about.
A note here: when asked “How are you,” don’t take that as an opportunity to talk ad nauseam about whatever it is you’re excited about. You’re simply replying with a sentence or two. Example:
“Mary, great to see you. How are you?”
“Hi Joe, nice to see you too.” I’m well. My husband and I are heading to Italy in a couple of weeks. I’ve never been and I’m looking forward to seeing that part of the world. Have you ever been to Italy?”
End conversations graciously
Whether you’ve run out of things to discuss or you’re stuck with a chatty Cathy, end conversations graciously. There are two parts to ending a conversation. The reason for ending it – “I’m going to freshen my drink” – and the gracious close – “It was nice talking to you.” Using the two part method makes it clear you’re moving on, but it also makes the other person feel good about the conversation, even if you didn’t love it.
Use these tips to make your conversations easier. Now go out there and mingle.