Welcome to the most stressful small-talk time of the year! If you are among those who are biting their nails down to the quick with worry over how you are going to survive this year’s enforced get-togethers, fear not. I’ve created the definitive guide to surviving holiday party small talk, whether you are trapped at a mandatory office party or white-knuckling it through a family feast.*
1) Be a social butterfly
With the exception of very small parties (eight people or fewer), you won’t be able to talk to everyone for a very long time. Use this to your advantage! While flitting from conversation to conversation may sound exhausting, it gives you the unparalleled opportunity to say as little as possible while still appearing festively social.
2) Don’t gossip about anyone there
This is a difficult rule to follow (especially once people start getting into the boose…see Rule #5), but it returns dividends. Gossiping about people present at the same holiday festivity means you need to be constantly watching to see if they are coming near. It also leads to phony politeness when the gossipee does show up. Don’t kid yourself – people know when you’ve been talking about them, and nothing breeds awkwardness faster than an obvious and sudden shift in conversation.
3) Avoid controversial topics unless you are 100% positive that the other person agrees with you
This is a golden rule of peaceable conversations. Don’t get into an argument about religion with your cousin. Don’t get into a debate about opposing political views with your co-worker. Don’t get into the merits vs. faults of the Keystone oil pipeline with your brother-in-law.
If you don’t know that the other person shares the same opinion as you, just don’t bring it up. Holiday parties are not the time to demonstrate your well-thought out views and opinions.
But Lauren, you say, Uncle Bob/Mary from Accounting is going to start talking about politics/religion/how to carve a turkey! And it drives me CRAZY!
Yes, and when they do you move on to Rule #4…
4) Don’t take the bait
You might not be able to prevent someone else from bringing up a warhead of a topic, but you can control your response to it. The best way to avoid the bait is avoid all meaningful response. Make soothing mooing noises (“Ooh? Mmmm. UmHMM!”) and ask them neutral questions like “and where else have you heard that?” Then smile blankly while letting their words go in one ear and straight out the other.
To do this successfully, you need to keep your tone of voice relentlessly pleasant. Use the Builder’s Beige of vocal inflections. Then, once the person has spouted off and starts to get bored, change the topic (see Rule #6 for suggestions!).
Do not allow the level of controversy in any conversation to exceed that of what makes for a good interior paint colour or whether or not Malbec lives up to its hype.
Speaking of wine…
5) Moderate your booze intake
I know what you’re thinking: killjoy.
Seriously, though, this one is big!
One drink takes away the edge. Four drinks take away the filters. Don’t take away your filters. They will serve you far better than the buzz you’ll get from whatever mediocre wine is being served. I cut myself off after one glass (okay, two).
6) Plan ahead and embrace the bland
This rule pretty much encapsulates the previous 5 rules, but it`s so important that I gave it its own spot.
Make blandness your friend. The goal is to survive the party, not to be the most interesting person there. Being the most interesting person usually comes with a side-dish of regret. Instead, do a bit of pre-planning and come up with a raft of the dullest, most canned conversations on which you may safely float.
Avoid talking about anything of substance. Talk about the weather. Talk about the health benefits of walking. Muse over gas prices, local craft markets, or whether pineapple or strawberries are the superior fruit on the party platter.
Don’t wear lampshades, whip off your shirt, or lead conga lines. Remember: the internet never forgets, and people will post those pictures.
Be polite, sip your diluted cocktail, and smile as you count down the minutes to your escape.
Follow these six simple rules, and you’ll be able to coast through nearly any holiday gathering with your dignity, reputation, and sanity intact!
*Yes, this is tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly. Big parties freak me out. Stick me on a stage in front of a few hundred people? No problem – I got this. Stick me in a room of 30 with a drink and hors d’oeuvres in hand? I turn into a bundle of nerves and forget what I’m supposed to do.