Tis the season for a myriad of social interactions, both professional and personal: Office parties, large family gatherings, and even the random chit chat with folks that you bump into at the mall while shopping. Do these events make you nervous? Are you concerned that you will forget a name or commit a social faux pas?
Imagine you are spending your very first holiday season with your in-laws, surrounded by people you probably met only once (at the wedding). You meet Uncle Joe who drinks a bit too much which results in the occasional wandering hand; Auntie June who is a “close talker” and tends to spit a bit and, to wrap up this gaggle of fun, you have been seated for dinner next to Margaret who has recently experienced an unusual “awakening” while on sabbatical from her University teaching job. This “awakening” now precludes her from bathing regularly, leaving her smelling like stale tomato soup.
Tongue tied due to nerves, and on edge because of the group dynamics, you are hesitant to join in on the conversation.
There is an art to making great conversation, but many of us fall a wee bit short. That is okay because if we were all extroverted wordsmiths who love to hear the sound of our own voices…..it would be painful and probably mean that we were on Parliament Hill (wink).
Here are some tips to get you through the holiday season. DISCLAIMER – I took some (cough) artistic licence with these tips and they should be taken with a grain of salt:
Remembering Names: Face association and repetition can be helpful tools in remembering names. When you meet someone, repeat their name a few times (do this in your head – not out loud please) and associate their face with the name. It doesn’t always work, especially if you are meeting many people for the first time. If you are in a work setting and are exchanging business cards, try to take a moment to jot down something specific about the individual on the back of their card. It will be a useful reminder for when you return home, and need to begin putting faces to names.
If you have forgotten someone’s name, sometimes it is best to ‘fess up and say, “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”.
If all else fails….Listen!: Becoming a good listener is definitely a gift that many do not have. A good listener is both attentive, and reflective and focuses their full attention on those talking and being open to the conversation. Do not sit with your arms crossed, instead, lean in slightly, making eye contact (except when you are speaking with Uncle Joe or Auntie June). “Reflect” back which means to occasionally repeat back some of what they are saying so that they know you are listening, and that you have understood what they are saying.
Awkward Conversations: There are times when people want to over-share. Oftentimes this will occur in direct relationship to the amount of alcohol which has been consumed. If you feel you are going to become the conversation target of “TMI” (too much information), disengage yourself from the individual and walk away. If the TMI is a result of alcohol over-indulgence, you are doing them a favour by not staying to listen to all of the personal detailed information and sparing them potential embarrassment.
The Seating Chart: If you have been seated next to an Auntie June, Uncle Joe or a Margaret, you do not have a lot of choices available to you with the exception of jumping up to offer the hostess your assistance in the kitchen. You will be remembered as being “such a helpful” guest and no one will know that you had an ulterior motive.
The Safe Word: Lastly, if you are going to a social event and want to be able to signal your friend or partner that it is time to go, or if you need rescue…come up with a “safe” word before you arrive. Interjecting the safe word into the conversation will allow you to remove yourself from conversations or situations where you feel uncomfortable. Reminder!!! Unacceptable safe words are: Fire! Bomb! Gun! Rat! Bee! and finally, Spider!