man and woman sitting awkwardly on a couoch trying to start conversation

5 Ways of Dealing with Awkward Conversation

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.

Upset relative in the middle of a couple's argument

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.

Avoid Judgments

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.

Be Polite

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.

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drunk disoderly man with tie on his head

When It’s Time for a Guest to Go

Thankfully, most people will never have to throw out a party guest. However, it’s always a possibility, so it’s better to have a plan in mind, just in case.

First, it’s important to remember that a host has responsibilities to all guests. You may doubt yourself when considering ejecting someone, but consider the disruption this person is causing for everyone else. If the party is becoming uncomfortable or scary, it’s your responsibility to give offending the individual the boot.

Reasons to eject someone include:

  • Not being invited. Someone who shows up uninvited is not a guest until you make them one, so seriously consider turning them away at the door to avoid further complications later.
  • Threat of property damage. Whether through active malice or drunken incompetence, when a guest is in danger of causing property damage, it’s time for them to go. Don’t wait for them to actually break something. The situation has spiraled well out of control by that point.
  • Threat to individuals. A guest who makes others fear for their safety has no place at a party. Eject these folks the moment you become aware of them.
  • Being out of control. A person might not pose an immediate threat yet still be obviously out of control.

Reasons not to eject a guest:

  • They have passed out. While the situation is not ideal, a passed out guest isn’t inconveniencing anyone other than taking up a bit of space. Moreover, sending such a person packing is dangerous. Obviously, they can’t drive, and in an incapacitated state, even shoving them into an Uber has safety issues. It’s best to let such people sleep it off.
  • They’re being boring or awkward. You invited them. If they don’t fit in, that’s on you, not them. Instead, try to help them better integrate with others so everyone has a more relaxing time.
  • Another guest asks for them to be removed because of personal disagreement. Adults should be capable of civility even towards people they don’t particularly care for. If the other party is behaving appropriately, it might be best for the person objecting to their presence to be the one who leaves.

Once you’ve decided someone needs ejecting, it’s best to be done quickly and quietly. Making a scene of it just further exacerbates the disruption already caused.

  • Ask politely. Explain the situation. Offer to talk about it another time. But above all else, ask them to leave both politely and firmly. Do not drop hints. It’s too easy for them to be missed or ignored.
  • Bring backup. If you think this individual might not go quietly, bring a friend or two to show you mean business and ensure your own protection. People are far less likely to cause an incident when they are outnumbered.
  • Don’t use force. It elevates an already tense situation, makes it more likely for property or individuals to be damaged, and it can land you in legal hot water.
  • Don’t put a drunk person behind the wheel. A lot of disruptions at parties are because of alcohol, so this complicates ejecting an offender. Potentially another guest will be willing to drive the person home. Otherwise, call an Uber, presuming they’re coherent enough to safely interact with the driver.
  • If all else fails, call the police. Hopefully the mere threat will convince your unruly guest to depart. If not, the police will be able to forcibly eject them.

Having a hostile guest is something no one wants to have, and many party hosts never will. However, it’s important to have contingencies in place just in case a situation occurs, so the event causes as little disruption as possible.

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Sad woman unhappy with her gift

To Regift or Not Regift

20 years ago, the TV show Seinfeld coined the term “regifting,” meaning to give another a gift that was given to you. Over the years, both the term and the practice has become more mainstream, and etiquette experts generally agree that it is acceptable in certain circumstances.

First, the gift needs to be unused. Gifting a used item is never acceptable. The item should be in its intact box with all pieces and instructions. In short, it should appear as if you just bought it yourself.

Of course, there are times when we give clearly used items. For example, if I got a new computer or gaming console, I might know someone who would appreciate my old one. There’s nothing wrong in those sorts of gifts, but in that case everyone is aware the items are used. To regift is to present a gift as if it is new.

Second, never ever return a gift to the original giver. Seinfeld called that “degifting.” It’s essentially refusing a gift and telling yourself you’re a generous person for doing so. Moreover, you can’t regift an item to someone who knows the original giver. You’d hate for your mom to see your cousin wearing the sweater she gave to you.

Third, be reasonably sure the recipient will like it. A regift is, absolutely, a gift. If you just throw something random at them because it happens to be laying around, that’s not a gift. That’s cleaning out clutter.


Woman surprised by a giftThings that should not be regifted include:

  • Promotional items you received for free, even if the recipient thinks it’s really cool. You can always include the free item, but you’ve got to spend something on them. Giving something of yourself is an intimate part of gift-giving.
  • Handmade items. Someone had you in mind when they made that doily for you. Treasure the gesture even if you can’t treasure the item. Besides, its nature will be very obvious to the recipient
  • Heirlooms. If you inherited grandma’s crystal, keep it, even if you don’t like it. You don’t have to use it, but it’s a part of your family.
  • Homemade food. There’s lots of problems here. Homemade goods quickly go stale or worse, and they also kind of fall under the handmade item category. Food in general is problematic. Make sure the item will still be fresh when received.

In all cases, rewrap the gift. If you find yourself shying away because of cost or time, then your regifting motivations have made themselves obvious. Surely your friend is worth a trip to the store for a gift bag and a card.

Do you have a gift receipt? If yes, it’s probably just easier to return the item. Clearly, that option is acceptable to the giver, or they wouldn’t have included the gift receipt in the first place. You can always turn around and use that money to buy something your recipient would really enjoy.

There’s lots of reasons why we’re tempted to regift, and some of them are perfectly valid. Ultimately, honestly ask yourself why you are giving it and how you think the recipient will feel about it. If you’re just throwing them a random gift, it’s better to buy something new that will better appeal to them. After it, it’s meant to be a gift.

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Corporate Christmas party

Navigating the Corporate Party

The season of corporate parties is upon us, a time when people from many different facets of a company, theoretically, come together in solidarity. In practice, it can get a bit more awkward, and those who thought of themselves as the life of the party might face a harsh reality when they return to work.

But the corporate party doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Yes, if you make a fool of yourself, your boss and boss’s boss will be witness to it. But it’s also an opportunity to let the higher-ups know you exist. Dress professionally, shake hands, socialize with people you don’t know well, and take advantage of this opportunity to share a drink with executives.

But for all the carer-improving potential, don’t make this solely about business. It’s a party. Leave the industry jargon back at your desk. But do demonstrate yourself as a smart, capable person with a drive to contribute to the company’s success.

Drunk businessman at corporate holiday party

Moderation with Alcohol

If alcohol is being served, and it very often is, there’s nothing wrong with having a glass. However, it is so very, very easy to let that single drink turn into five, particularly if you’re not thrilled to be attending the party in the first place.

A corporate party is not the place for overindulgence. It’s unprofessional, and while you’re not technically at work, it’s still a work-related event and full of people who work with you. Not only will your alcohol-fueled exploits be known to co-workers, but news of it will quickly spread to just about everyone, including that one executive who didn’t even attend but was your best shot at a promotion.

Getting drunk shows a lack of control, and that’s exactly what a business doesn’t want. So, no matter how freely the drinks may be flowing, know your limits. Eating before the party can help as well.

Bored woman at party

Remember Your Guests

If you’ve brought a significant other, remember they probably do not know most of the people in attendance, and they almost certainly do not know the details of your industry. Find topics of conversation that everyone can enjoy. If you have to talk shop, introduce your guest to others who are in a similar situation. But don’t forget them! Check up to see how they’re doing. Have they made a new friend, or have they been desperately awaiting your return to help them escape?

Corporate parties require a certain amount of fine line walking. It should always be remembered this is corporate, but bringing too much business talk is likely to turn off people who are looking to unwind. Unwind too much, however, and you’ll be seen as unprofessional. So, be professional, be social and act in moderation. Those ideas go a long way in helping you navigate a corporate party.

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Frustrated woman surrounded by holiday gifts

Dealing with Difficult Relatives at Holiday Parties

For many families, the holidays are the one time of year everyone can come together. While that means seeing your favorite cousin, your loving grandparents, and that sister you never get to see, it also means dealing with the uncle with obnoxious politics and the aunt who talks of nothing but herself. There’s no choice but to take the good with the bad. However, there are ways of making the holidays a little less stressful, even around the people who rub you the wrong way.

It’s Them, not You

Regardless of what people might say, the reason this person irritates you has everything to do with them, not you. It’s who they are. That part of their nature might not bother everyone, but it is nevertheless a part of them, and you’re not going to change that. There’s little chance of correcting them, so you need to find coping mechanisms.

The worst relatives actively try to make you feel guilty over disagreements. They try to manipulate you into doing what they want, and if you refuse, they imply you’re a bad person, you don’t care about the family, you’re selfish or you’re looking for a fight. Be firm but polite. You’re not comfortable with what they are asking. If they continue to press, keep it short and don’t debate: “I’ve already said I’m not comfortable with that.” Walk away if necessary.

Avoid Hot Button Topics

If your uncle’s politics upset you, don’t bring up politics. Preferably, don’t bring up politics with anyone, because then Annoying Uncle might join your conversation uninvited. If he gets started, it may be best to physically move to where another conversation is happening. If you can’t get away, and Annoying Uncle presses you to participate, politely decline: “You know my feelings on this. I’m not looking to argue.”

woman yelling, man plugging his ears

Find Alternative Topics

You probably know who you’re going to have a problem with, and you probably won’t be able to escape them, so make plans. Consider topics which they will find interesting but will hopefully keep them away from the issues which most grate on your nerves.

When All Else Fails…

Ask how they’re doing. Keep the question open-ended. Let them lead the conversation in a direction they like but which hopefully will not lean toward the Chasm of Upsetting Topics. If that means you’ve just given the aunt who talks of nothing but herself free rein, so be it. It’s the holidays, after all, and some tolerance is simply a necessity. But if she goes on too long, you can always escape to pick up a snack, or you can beg her pardon while you catch up with other relatives rather than just her.

Holidays are a time of joy, but they’re also a time of great frustration. Gathering many people together can bring a lot of stress with it, everything from organizing the holiday dinner to dealing with clashes of personality. If you plan on seeing the family, you have to accept its members’ various foibles. You don’t, however, have to be blindsided by them. Take stock of the situation beforehand and make preparations. Know how you’re going to deal with the most likely conflicts. Not only will it be less stressful for you, but it will also be less disruptive for everyone around you.

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Woman holding a gift box in a gesture of giving.

To Gift or Not to Gift?

As we approach the holiday season, one of the looming questions is how to deal with party gift giving. You don’t wish to offend, but the giving of gifts can be very expensive, particularly if you have a large family or multiple circles of friends throwing parties.

Ultimately, you’re never obligated to provide a gift at any event, up to and including weddings. The point of a gift is to express your feelings for the receivers. When the gift becomes an obligation, the sentiment behind it vanishes.

However, if someone invites you to their wedding, and you don’t feel it necessary to express some degree of affection, you might want to reconsider your friendship. You were important enough for them to invite you in the first place. Is that feeling really so one-sided?

Gifts are more expected at some events than others. Those which traditionally include gift giving include:

  • Weddings
  • Bridal showers
  • Baby showers
  • Housewarming parties
  • Birthdays

Those which do not traditionally expect gifts include:

  • Engagement parties
  • Bachelor/Bachelorette parties
  • New Year’s parties

Holiday parties may or may not involve gift exchanges. Talk to your host ahead of time to see what common practice is. It’s a nice gesture to at least bring a gift for the host. It needn’t be expensive. A dessert for the meal or a bottle of wine both make fine gifts.

Friends celebrating birthday and giving gift

How Much to Spend?

People often balk at gift giving because of cost. No one should be judging your gift. If money is tight, your friends and family should understand that your budget is limited. Also, not every person in your life needs a gift.

If you would like to give something, there’s always the options of cards. They’re a nice way of saying “I’m thinking of you” without breaking the bank.

One uncomfortable situation is when someone gives you an expensive gift, and you can’t afford to reciprocate. Remember, there’s no obligation to give gifts at all. If your friend is expecting a fancy gift in return, then what they gave wasn’t really a gift. It was payment.

Some people give gifts knowing they are fortunate enough to give more than they’ll get in return. Consider at least a token of appreciation. However, if you’re uncomfortable with an imbalance of gift value, simply talk to them about it. Express your appreciation for their generosity, then tell them why you’re uncomfortable. They may be able to calm your fears. If not, they’ll respect your wishes. No one gives gifts they know aren’t wanted.

Gift giving is an ancient tradition in which people express their ties to and appreciation of those around them. They are meant to be an expression of affection. When we turn gifts into obligations, the meaning behind them is lost. No one is ever obligated to give a gift. However, refusing to gift does imply certain things about the relationship in question. Gifts should fit the situation: your finances, the event, how close you are to the recipient and the personal tastes of that recipient. Tailor your gifts to that situation, and you can be much more comfortable with the tradition while expressing your feelings to those around you.

Words "Bridal Shower" on a tablet

Bridal Showers Dos and Don’ts

The weeks before a wedding are frequently a hectic time. As such, the looming threat of a bridal shower being thrown on top of everything else can feel overwhelming. So if you’re going to throw a bridal shower, keep a few things in mind.

Showers are Thrown by Friends

The bride should never, ever throw her own bridal shower. First, she doesn’t need anymore stress just before her wedding. Second, showers are traditionally a gift-giving event meant to supply the bride with practical household items. If the bride threw the party herself, it would look like she was just trolling for gifts. Having the bride’s family throw the party has similar problems: showers became fashionable at a time when the bride’s family was still expected to provide a dowry. It’s possible the shower’s purpose was to save the bride’s family that expense.

Consider the Bride

Some brides feel forced to attend their own bridal showers. Don’t presume she wants one. Ask. Her time in valuable. Also, throw unwanted parties makes no sense. Furthermore, she may be uncomfortable with gift-giving, since people will also be giving gifts at the wedding (although this can be subverted by simply asking guests not to bring gifts). Finally, hold the shower several weeks before the wedding. She doesn’t need anything more on her plate later than that.

Attractively Wrapped GiftAttendance Not Required

No one should feel obligated to attend a bridal shower, and gift-giving is absolutely not expected from anyone who doesn’t attend.

Stay Informal

Leave the fancy stuff for the wedding. Showers are normally held in the host’s home, and dress is totally casual. Invitations might involve a card and envelope, but it’s just as likely for them to be passed word of mouth or given out over the Internet. Because the host is not providing, RSVPs are much more casual as well. Sometimes people just show up. Showers also often incorporate games to break the ice and get everyone laughing.

Bridal Showers Are Not Bachelorette Parties

Bachelorette parties are theoretically the last wild flings of the single bride-to-be. They are attended exclusively by close friends. Humor is commonly rowdy and large quantities of alcohol are commonly involved. That’s not a bridal shower. Showers are PG at most and draw guests from all walks of life: young and old, family and friend.

Invite the Men if You Want

Bridal showers have traditionally been female-only affairs. Originating in the 19th century, bridal showers were shapes by the traditional gender roles of that society. Since gifts were meant for housekeeping, it was very much just for women.

But that’s not today’s society. Women socialize much more with men now than a hundred years ago,so if the bride has close male friends, you might want to invite them.

Smiling business woman during company lunch buffet

Mingling with Strangers

It’s one thing to attend a party with friends where you know everyone or, at least, can be extremely casual with those you’re just meeting. However, attending large events with strangers or near strangers is an entirely different story. This can be anything from a business conference to a wedding. You may know some people, but you’re also expected to socialize with a large number of strangers.

The key lesson is to keep your focus on the other person. Behave in a way that caters to them. Hopefully, they will do the same to you, but even if they don’t, you will walk away the better person, and they may still recognize your politeness.

To that end, don’t carry things in your right hand, since that’s the hand you shake with. Constantly juggling items between hands is distracting and awkward. This is particularly a point with drinks. Shaking someone’s wet hand is just kind of gross.

Most people put name tags on their left side, since they’re doing it with their right hand. However, when shaking someone’s hand, the right side of the chest is most visible, so it makes more sense to place the tag on the right rather than the left.

Businessman Attaching Name Tag At Conference
Businessman Attaching Name Tag At Conference

When striking up conversation, ask open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no do not move the conversation forward. Also, it shows your interest in the other person. When they’re asking the questions, avoid short answers like “good” even if it will technically suffice. Explain why things are going well. This interaction gives both participants something to build off of in continuing the conversation.

Then, of course, is the age old rule of avoiding religion and politics. You don’t know what the strangers around you believe. It’s easy to presume everyone agrees with you, particularly if you get along with them in general. In fact, they may have radically different viewpoints on some matters, and things can get awkward and even insulting very quick.

Beyond those topics, also be wary of humor. Your friends get your sense of humor, and that may leave you with the impression you’re funny to everyone. You might not be. Poking fun at the wrong things or engaging in certain types of humor can quickly lead to insult. Even if you think a few jokes will lighten up a dull evening, think long and hard about actually engaging in comedy.

Forced to be in a crowd full of strangers can be a daunting task. You’re probably required to be there, so you’d best make the best of it. First and foremost, make your interactions be about others rather than yourself. Make it easier for them to converse with you. Not only is it polite, but it also makes it more likely to continue a conversation with them. The alternative is to continue drifting aimlessly in a sea of strangers.

Woman Bored at a Party as Others Chat

Surviving Small Talk

When you’re hanging out with friends, conversation comes easily because you already know what one another like and dislike. Parties are another thing altogether, where it’s likely you’ll end up next to someone you don’t know. What options do you have besides slinking off to a corner?

The first key to surviving small talk is asking questions. If you do nothing but talk about yourself, you’ll appear conceited. However, asking questions indicates you’re interested in what your conversation partner has to say. It also gives you an idea of what they like, so when it’s your turn to speak you can converse about something that interests both of you.

Of course, your partner can just as easily initiate conversation. Avoid one-word answers. “How are you doing?” “Fine.” is a conversation killer. Share something about yourself: what you recently did, what you’re planning on doing. Something. Anything. Now your partner has something to build off. Conversation is a two-way street that requires common ground.

But where to start? Here are some ideas to get a conversation started, all of which are general in scope and widely applicable:

  • Where are you from?” This works great at events that draw in people from diverse locales. It also allows for additional questions, such as “What is it like there?”
  • What do you do for a living?” Depending on the answer, this can be followed up with an infinite variety of questions. More generally, you can ask how they got into that profession and what they love about it.
  • What did you think of the event?” Whether you’re there for a wedding or a business meeting, there was likely some central activity that drew you both there.
  • If it’s a wedding, you can always ask “Do you know the bride or the groom?” The follow up question can be “How do you know them?” or “What’s he/she like?”

Four people at a fancy party

Of course, alcohol is a great icebreaker too. A glass or two wears down the inhibitions which make us self-conscious and keep us from expressing ourselves. However, too much and you start over-sharing, so take it easy.

There are topics your should be wary of, most notably politics and religion. Some people have very strong opinions on these topics, and you have no idea if their views align with yours. At best, such people go off on a rant that kills any chance of conversation. At worst, one or both of you end up seriously offended.

Steer away from gossip. Besides it being bad manners, you don’t know who your conversation partner knows. You’d hate to bad mouth someone’s sister or speak ill of your boss to one of his friends.

But what if the conversation just isn’t going anywhere? Politely excuse yourself. Often times, people find excuses such as getting another drink or needing to say hello to the host. Whatever you say, thank the person for talking with you and express your hope they have a good evening.

Mingling comes hard for some of us. However, it’s something we’re all expected to do on occasion. But with a few ideas in mind, you can more easily enjoy the evening.

Angry couple at a party

Not Extending an Invitation to a Party

Sometimes, when we’re planning an event, there is someone we really don’t want to invite. There’s lots of potential reasons why. We also likely feel guilty if we don’t. When do we grin and bear it, and when do we cut them loose?

The first thing to consider is the ramifications of not inviting the person.

  • Will this person likely find out? If not, excluding them is easy. However, if you’ve invited all your co-workers but one, odds are the odd one out is going to hear about it.
  • Do you care if they find out? If this is the obnoxious co-worker who does nothing but harass you, are they likely to be any worse if you snub them for your party? Quite the opposite, it gives you an easy explanation: they have made it clear they don’t appreciate your company, so you saved them the embarrassment of having to turn to you down.
  • Do you see this person often? If the answer is “no,” then you won’t have to often deal with fallout, and you have a reasonable excuse: you only invited people with whom you are close.
  • Is this person family? For better or worse, family members expect special treatment. Moreover, other relatives may take their side on the matter. Family squabbles get ugly quick. Seriously consider if the issue is worth division among relatives.
  • Are they an attendee’s significant other? If yes, you’re going to have to put up with them unless there are seriously extenuating circumstances. You can’t ask a friend to come alone just because you don’t get alone with their partner.

So what circumstances justify excluding a person from the invitation list?

  • Threat of harm. If you or one of your guests has reason to believe the person means them physical harm, you are absolutely in the right by not inviting them. You owe your guests as safe an event as possible.
  • History of bad behavior. Does this person behave inappropriately? This most often rears its head when alcohol is involved. If you’re afraid this person is going to break things, behave rudely, break the law, etc. then it’s reasonable to exclude them.

But what if you have no real objection to the person, but you feel they won’t fit in with other attendees? Treat your friend like an adult. Explain your concern and let them decide for themselves. They may decide it’s not for them, but that’s their decision. You extended the invitation. They may attend and feel out of place. That’s a shame, but you did warm them. Or they may attend and surprise you with how well they get along with others.

How do you handle people’s ex’s? If you’re friends with both, you’re in a sticky situation. I suggest inviting both. You shouldn’t have to choose sides. If they can’t cope with one another, that’s between the two of them.

Of course, if you think one of them may harm the other or behave grossly inappropriately, then it’s completely reasonable to exclude them. But if that’s the case, why are you friends with them?

There’s a certain amount of politics involved in creating an invitation list. Understanding your options goes a long way in helping you make an informed decision while hurting the fewest feelings.