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Holiday Parties

3 Ways to Help Yourself (and Others) Enjoy Them

Conner Newbold Sep 12, 2018

A glance at your watch says you’re only 45 minutes in. How is that possible?

You took your time eating. You nodded along with the long-winded brother-in-law for what felt like hours, dodged uncomfortable questions from the perky aunt, and tried to start a conversation with the quiet cousin — limited success there, just like last year. Now, after a visit to the bathroom, an encore at the buffet and several more short-lived conversations, the one-hour milestone still eludes you. Why, you ask yourself, does time always pass so slowly at these functions?

Holidays Are for Partying

The holidays are soon upon us, and with them come dinner parties, family parties, office parties and other gatherings. The guest list varies, but the experience is often the same: hors d’oeuvres, introductions, reconnections and hours of chitchat.

While many are quick to denounce the tedium of such functions, social coaches and motivational speakers offer up this truth: They don’t have to be painful. It’s up to you to make them enjoyable. 

Embrace the Small Talk

There are plenty of reasons to hate small talk. It’s the lowest form of conversation — some say it’s a shallow, gossipy waste of time. Even Carol Fleming, Ph.D, defender of small talk and author of “The Serious Business of Small Talk,” compares it to tofu — easily digestible, readily available and totally bland. But she goes on to explain that while small talk may not reveal your intellect, it does reveal your humanity.

“It’s the heart and soul of the social communication flow that keeps you in touch with people and your community,” she writes.

Small talk is the crucial first rung on the conversational ladder. It’s necessary to step through it on the way to what most are really looking for — real human connection, with depth and intellect. So embrace it. Mingling becomes far easier when it’s focused on building lasting relationships, not enduring a few hours of social torture.

Respect the Personality Spectrum

In her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain says, “Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, ... extroverts, to the external life of people and activities. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”

Both are capable of socializing at parties but often have different conversational styles. Some say introverts tend to speak more softly and slowly than extroverts. Others accuse extroverts of dominating conversations and avoiding deep discussion of reflections and feelings.

Conversations are smoother and more enjoyable when participants respect each other’s preferences, and maybe even adapt to one another’s style.

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto isn’t just for camping — it works for social gatherings, too.

Debra Fine, author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” suggests partygoers do a little advance preparation. She advises thinking through the guest list and mentally pairing attendees with possible conversation topics and icebreakers. It also helps to prepare a few generic questions to get others talking. Doing so will help increase your conversational control and confidence.

Fine also recommends having a few exit lines ready, so you can both gracefully move on when the conversation has run its course. Anything from, “I promised the babysitter I’d check in” to “I skipped lunch today, so I need to visit the buffet” could work well.

With these tools and a positive attitude, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy this season’s parties. If not, your favorite pajamas and easy chair will comfort you after a job well done.

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