There’s no getting away from conversation at social events, and trying to escape may make others feel uncomfortable. However, conversation comes more easily to some of us than to others. There’s also the fear of getting into conversations where you expect there to be frictions. No matter what your concern, here are some ways of helping to negate them.
Come with Topics in Mind
There are things in your life worth sharing. There are also things in other people’s lives you might want to know. At the very least, there are things they want to share: how their kids are doing, a vacation they just took, a new job, something they’ve mentioned over social media, etc. Make a mental list of these topics and dive into them as needed.
Make It about Them, Not You
Open up the conversation with a question. “How are you doing?” works fine. After they answer, they’ll ask you the same. That’s the time to talk about yourself. Keep things brief, unless they ask for more details. That lets the conversation more easily flow and not make one participant feel trapped into listening to a 20 minute story.
Respect their Perspective
A general rule of thumb is to avoid hot button topics like religion and politics, but others may disagree. These matters are important to them, and dismissing them out of hand can be rude.
Vaile Wright, psychologist and researcher at the American Psychological Association, encourages people to tackle tough topics like politics around the dinner table. She underscores, however, that you have to respect the other person even if you disagree. If they feel disrespected, they’ll become adversarial, far more interested in defending their opinion than listening to yours.
There is, however, a point where you might have to walk away. Try to leave gracefully. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to disagree” may be the only way of extricating yourself if things get rough.
There is a difference between voicing your opinion and throwing out judgments. “The football coach is an idiot,” may put people on the defensive. “Did you see the game? What did you think of the coach? I thought that play was really mishandled,” keeps the conversation more casual and invites others to participate rather than run away from the angry relative.
Whatever the situation, “be polite” is a rule that never fails. Respect those around you. If you cannot keep the discussion civil (even if it’s the fault of someone else), politely withdraw, ending the conversation. You’ll be doing everyone a favor: no one wants to hear people ranting, arguing and shouting.
If conversation is difficult for you, come with a plan. That includes a list of topics to employ and tactics for keeping conversation civil. Listen to the other person, allowing them to speak and making them feel respected. Above all else, be polite, and it’ll be much easier to survive uncomfortable get-togethers.