Thanksgiving can mean the ideal family get together or a day of awkward moments, uncomfortable silences, and eruptions of family feuds. Here are Debra Fine’s Top 10 Conversation Landmines for the upcoming holiday season for mastering the fine art of small talk:
1. “Are you two ever going to get married?” Most of us mothers (I am guilty as charged!), along with the rest of the planet, presume that long time dating results in marriage. It ain’t necessarily so! And for those young people at the table already blissfully wed: “When are you two going to make me a grandmother?” Back off! If they wanted you to know their intimate intentions they would be sure to send you a press release.
2. “I heard Sarah got into Northwestern…why in the world is she going to Michigan State instead?” Maybe the economy has put a damper on attending private institutions. Got a problem with the Spartans?
3.”No, thanks. I gave up drinking after I saw the toll it took on you.” This is meant to deliberately point a finger. If you must address someone’s overindulgence, do it in private! And making someone feel bad about themselves does not typically motivate better behavior.
4. “Why did you two leave that beautiful home for this?” APR and no interest loans created a housing crisis for all, not just those strangers you read about in the newspapers. Remember what Mom always said, if you have nothing nice to say…shut up!
5. “I knew your candidate did not stand a chance. What do you have to say for yourself now?” Stop gloating, there are plenty people eating turkey after the election, no need to rub it in. We are all in this together.
6. “Aren’t you full yet?” or “Why aren’t you eating anything?” Leave us alone about what we eat or don’t eat and worry about what you put in your own mouth. Just because eating at the holiday dinner table is a marathon of gorging for some, for others it may be an Olympic feat of discipline. Also, just because you slaved over the pumpkin pie or prepared grandma’s traditional stuffing does not mean we are required to consume it. Eating is a personal decision!
7. “Yes, I know you’re a parent. But haven’t you ever thought about working?” Is this just a reflection of the Mommy wars? Whether someone chooses to work outside of the home or stay at home with their kids, it is their choice and we should respect that choice and instead show a genuine interest in her: “What are the challenges of staying at home with kids today?” or “Describe a typical day…” or “What keeps you busy outside of work/home?”
8. “I see you still can’t be bothered with ironing a shirt.” Leave him alone. His priorities are not the same as yours. Appreciate that he wore a nice button down shirt!
9. “How is it that your son looks just like you and your daughter looks like she could be from a different family?” Personal questions that you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. Other examples include: “Did your son graduate?” and “How is the boyfriend?” or “Did she go to prom?”
10. “Did you cook this yourself, or did you just thaw it out?” You may be asking because you sincerely wish to know how you can create this dish yourself but you are putting the host/hostess on the spot. Instead, ask for the recipe after the meal. If it was not homemade they will let you know at that time or maybe be coy and say that the recipe is a family tradition that is not shared outside the family!
Debra Fine is the author of the bestselling book: The Fine Art of Small Talk:How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills – and Leave a Positive Impression! She has been an instructor at Colorado Free University since 2007 and is teaching a new course just in time for the holidays: Master the Fine Art of Small Talk: Make the Most of Mingling this Holiday Season
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