Editor’s note: The Sidney Daily News is publishing a series of articles on etiquette as the holiday season approaches.
SIDNEY — It’s the season of mingling and celebrating. That time of year when you may be attending holiday parties, family dinners and the company celebration. If these events fill you with dread, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with socializing with strangers or people they don’t know well even if they are family or coworkers. But small talk does not need to be challenging. Using a few tactics will make your conversations much easier.
Focus on the Positive — If you dread holiday parties, the most important thing you must bring to the party is your positive attitude. It is really important to attend the company holiday party to be seen as a team player and to make connections with people who can further your career. So, instead of expecting to have a horrible time at the party, or dreading seeing so and so coworker, focus on the positive. Tell yourself you’re going to have a good time. Sometimes just changing your attitude will help you and others enjoy the event.
Do Your Research — To make conversation easier, it really helps to do some research on the people you hope to talk t and who will also be at the holiday get-together. Go to their LinkedIn profile and see where they went to school, their past jobs and any hobbies or volunteer activities they list. You can also try googling the person’s name. There might be information on awards they have won, boards they have served on or other conversational fodder topics. Knowing a little more about the people you want to talk to will make it easier to start and sustain a conversation. And just think how impressed your CEO will be if you ask her about her passion for CrossFit or her beloved rescue dog.
Get There Early — It’s much easier to show up on the earlier side, usually 10 to 20 minutes after the party start time. That way you can be the greeter and strike up a conversation with someone who is walking into the party. That person will be happy to have someone to talk to when they arrive. As more people show up, you can continue to mingle with others.
Meeting/Greeting — When greeting people, make eye contact. Be sure to give a firm handshake. Always smile. Be genuine. Let your eyes also smile. Make every effort to remember names. Always make the other person feel important and valued.
Nametags — If nametags are provided, the nametag always goes on your right. This way it is at eye for the person meeting you during introductions.
Mingling With Food — Decide which you want first—a drink or some light refreshments. Do not try to balance both at the same time. Always have a napkin in your hand. As you approach a person you wish to greet, gently wipe your hand on the napkins to get rid of water on your hands or greasy food residue.
Be a Good Listener — Listen more than talk. Pay full attention to the person speaking. Do not give in to the urge to interrupt with your person stories. Keep each conversation to a 10-minute limit per person. Don’t stick to one or two persons you know.
Ask Open-Ended Questions — When conversing with others, whether your boss, the CEO, or your neighbor’s brother, be curious. People love it when others are interested in them. Ask open ended questions – questions that start with who, what, when, where, how, why. Those kinds of questions will get the other person to share more which makes it easier to find something that you can talk about. You’ll want to share things about yourself as well so that it doesn’t turn into an interrogation. But take some time to ask a few questions and show a sincere interest in the other person before you start talking about yourself.
Here are some common openers:
• How do you like to celebrate the holidays?
ª What’s a favorite childhood holiday memory?
• What are some family holiday traditions you follow?
• What was the best thing that happened to you this year?
• What are you looking forward to next year?
End Conversations Graciously — Whether you’ve run out of things to discuss or you’re stuck with a chatty Cathy, end conversations graciously. There are two parts to ending a conversation. The reason for ending it – “I’m going to freshen my drink” – and the gracious close – “It was nice talking to you.” Using the two part method makes it clear you’re moving on, but it also makes the other person feel good about the conversation, even if you didn’t love it.
So get out there and have fun mingling! Don’t be a wallflower! Happy Mingling! Happy Holidays!
The writer is holds the rank of full professor emeritus at Wright State University, where he served as the chair of the Office Information Systems Program. He is also a certified etiquette trainer.