We’ve all heard the stereotypical complaints that surround the impending family gatherings at this time of year, whether it be to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s Eve or just taking time to catch up with family over the summer school holidays. For the most part, these complaints stem from having to engage in communication that we find uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the family member who talks endlessly each year about their hobby, or the in-law that you just can’t strike up a decent conversation with.
Whatever the situation, here are a few tips that are sure to help you create valuable holiday memories with even the most unlikely of visitors…
1. Conversation as a game of catch.
In a game of catch that intends to be enjoyable, friendly and engaging for both parties, there is an even distribution of giving and taking. You cannot throw the ball without having caught it and vice versa. The same goes for a good conversation! The game gets pretty boring if one person holds onto the ball for too long, or doesn’t pass it back in a way which is easily receivable to their partner.
2. Look for queues.
Paying a little extra attention to detail may be all you need to start an engaging conversation. Stickers, keychains, photos, gifts or even questions asked by the other person are likely to be a dead give away of that person’s interests. And, whilst we often think of social media as the big bad communication killer, it can be a great resource! Perhaps a family member recently went on a trip away, bought a new car or shared an accomplishment – if it’s been shared online you can bet that they would love to tell you all about it.

3. Keep it open!

Nothing kills a conversation more than a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer to a question. Give others the opportunity to tell you about their experiences by asking open-ended questions such as:
How did that feel?
What was that experience like?
Tell me more about that.
Encourage them to expand on what they are saying. A Harvard University study conducted in 2014 showed sharing information about ourselves is an extremely pleasurable experience which raises the dopamine levels in the brain, similarly to eating chocolate.
On a similar note, does anyone really enjoy being asked ‘How’s work?’… perhaps a better example of this question would be ‘Are you working on and exciting projects at work?’. Ask questions that you want to hear answered, rather than those you feel obliged to ask.
4. Leave out unnecessary details.
People often don’t care about the fine print such as exact dates or locations, it is better to be brief and highlight the points that are most meaningful. We care about getting to know each other, rather than a set of statistics.
5. Most importantly – Listen.
When we are listening and engaging with someone out of a place of genuine caring and interest, we are much less likely to become bored with the conversation, we learn more and we connect with one another in a meaningful way. It is better to have a brief conversation in which you are fully invested than to drag a conversation out due to a feeling of obligation.
Bill Nye said ‘Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t’. This is a great attitude to keep when engaging in any conversation.
We hope these 5 tips add a little something extra special to your holiday get-togethers!
We wish a very Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating and safe and happy holidays to all!
Are your teens in need of a crash course in The Art of Conversation? Book their place in our upcoming workshop on the 10th of January.