Do you love ‘em or loathe ‘em?
Do you have one (or several) on your social calendar this month—an office holiday party, extended family soiree or all-out bash with long-lost friends?
Are you looking forward to these parties with anticipation? Would you prefer to lock yourself in a broom closet (and project yourself onto a different part of the astral plane) until the danger passes?
Like death and taxes, the holiday get-together remains a fixed constant on the American cultural landscape.
Small talk, however, can be stressful. Do you feel pressure to respectfully engage a fellow partygoer with esoteric interests: competitive tiddlywinks, for example, or jai alai, or exotic birdwatching? Is it your boss? Your Great Uncle Greg? Do you feel responsible for preventing a long-running family feud from devolving into fisticuffs?
So as we don our best little black suits and dresses or ugliest of holiday sweaters, imbue ourselves with bonhomie and venture out into the slush and snow, prepared to enjoy the Yule season to the fullest, we concentrate on one thing.
Well, two things.
1) Practice patience and gratitude.
Yes, we all have our troubles, but if one is able to read this article on a computer he or she ain’t doing too badly in the human time-space continuum. We have been granted the freedom to celebrate and gather with others, and don’t risk persecution or arrest for doing so. Life is good.
2) Respectfully engage others by not being a jerk. (This article will focus on an essential aspect of non-jerkiness as it pertains to IRL conversation: not being boring.)
Being a mindful conversationalist means being attuned to when what you are saying is making others want to shrivel up and die. It also means knowing how to politely extract oneself when on the receiving end of a bout of verbal diarrhea. It can be tricky business.
I recently consulted an etiquette manual for clarification. “Letitia Baldridge’s Guide To A Great Social Life” was published in 1987 by Rawson Associates in New York for clarification.
1987. It was a time before the internet, Facebook and cell phones. Our bangs were shellacked, our rock stars had hairdos like Pomeranians and our rules of social congress were more sacrosanct.
Without further adieu, I quote, verbatim, a few points from page 113 of Ms. Baldridge’s book on how not to be boring.
The following points are relevant for the talker as well as the talkee:
Are You Boring?
“–Do you find yourself passionately holding forth on a controversial subject when the other person or people present are not of your opinion?
–Do you interminably drag out a story while people are looking at their watches, fidgeting, demanding another drink, or asking in a joking fashion (they’re not really joking) when you’re going to get to the point?
–Do you talk too slowly?
–Do you notice the eyes of the person you’re talking to glazing over?
–Do you go into lengthy dissertations on your feelings without first determining if your feelings are of interest to others, and without much interest in how others feel?
–Is your language peppered with cliches (“Here today, gone tomorrow”…”That’s life”…”Let the chips fall where they may”…”I was between a rock and a hard place.”)
–Have people ceased even a polite pretense of laughter at your jokes? Do the people listening to you start signaling each other with their eyes or stare off into space as you talk?”
To Ms. Baldridge’s list of dead giveaways, I would add something about looking people in the eye and keeping the cell phone in a purse or pocket, except in case of an emergency.
Stay pealed for installment two of the holiday etiquette series: “How Not To Be A Jerk At The Holiday Party: Impolite Questions For Men and Women.”
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum