Conquering Conversation at Holiday Gatherings (and Beyond!)

‘Tis the Season to feel awkward!

Awkward conversations, especially at holiday gatherings, are everyone’s fear; from the networking newcomer to the seasoned veteran. Networking opportunities abound at the holidays with co-workers, neighbors, relatives, and strangers. Great opportunities emerge or disappear. Bonds are forged or broken. Deals are made or lost. Relationships blossom or wither. All these things depend on the simple element of your ability to converse; No pressure!

The pain of awkward conversation, can be avoided with a little bit of training. The techniques are easy, but not natural, so it does pay to practice.

Where to begin

Starting a conversation is simple, as outlined in Weekly Sales Builder’s article, “How to Develop Stronger Bonding and Rapport with Prospects and Clients”. Using the acronym FORM, author Isabel Hogue teaches easy methods to begin a conversation. Keeping a good conversation going is where most of us get tripped up. The secret to successful conversation is in the question.

“What question”, you ask? See, you’re already off to a great start! 😉

Conversations get complicated when we feel pressured to produce a sterling opinion or a witty retort, especially if we ‘re unfamiliar with the subject. The obvious way to avoid saying something regrettable is to not say anything; but awkward silence is just as bad. The solution is to not *say* anything, but to ask questions instead. Using a technique called “reversing”, you can both continue a conversation and sound smart doing it. There are other benefits to the method, too, but we’ll get to that later.

Ask a simple question, get a genuine answer

Reversing is the simple act of asking a question based on someone else’s question or statement. Remember the earlier line; “What question, you ask?” That is an example of a reverse from the statement, “The secret to successful conversation is in the question.” By listening to the speaker, you can formulate a question that will take the conversation to a deeper level of understanding. Let’s try some examples:

You’re at the company Christmas party, and you’re introduced to the CEO. He says to you; “Good to meet you, I’ve been hearing good things about you.”

Bad response: “Well, I’m not surprised, based on the number of hours I’ve been putting in lately.”

Better response: “That’s flattering; may I ask what good things you’ve heard?”

This response tells your CEO that:

a.)You’ve listened to what he just said, b.)You’re not an egomaniac, and c.) You’re interested in hearing his opinion.

You’ve said nothing of consequence, you’ve handed the conversation back to the CEO, and you’ve set up a scenario for the boss to reinforce aloud the good things he’s heard about you. Not bad payback for a simple question!

A conversation power tool

Let’s try another one. This time, we’ll reverse from a question:

You’re at a family gathering. Highly successful Uncle Phil asks: “So how’s work?” It’s a seemingly simple question, but the response can be complicated. What if your company is failing? What if you hate your job? What if you hate small talk, but would really like to get to know Uncle Phil better, so you want to keep the conversation going? Try this:

(Bad answer: “It’s going okay.”)

Better answer: “That’s an interesting question, Uncle Phil. Why do you ask? “

This example is a powerful question to use! Try it anytime a short, open-ended question is posed for which you’re unsure of or uncomfortable with the answer. (An example in sales would be when someone starts a conversation with, “So how much is this going to cost me?” ) The power of this response lies in the element of surprise. Most people are expecting a short response to their short question. By asking a question in return, you catch them off guard, requiring them to think deeper. This enables real conversation to transpire.

Beyond the initial response

Continuing the conversation beyond the first few sentences requires good listening. Reversing demands that you sincerely listen to the person with whom you’re conversing, instead of concentrating on the next smart thing you’re going to say. You’re next question depends on it. So let’s carry the Uncle Phil conversation further:

Uncle Phil: Well, I guess I’ve been curious about your company; we offer similar services.

You: I see! What services do you see as similar?

Uncle Phil: Well, we both provide technical support, in a way, to other businesses.

You: I guess you’re right. Who are your top five clients right now?

Multiple Benefits

The conversation can go on indefinitely by first listening, then asking simple questions from the answers or questions you receive. It’s okay to answer occasionally, too, once you’ve reached a point of comfort with your answer. Even so, the benefits of listening, asking, and listening some more are golden. Here are some of the earlier promised benefits:

  • Avoidance of awkward silence
  • Avoidance of regrettable responses
  • Elimination of the “What do I say next?” pressure
  • Genuine answers that create deeper knowledge
  • Sincere appreciation for what the other person is saying
  • Appreciation by your conversation partner for your interest in what they have to say
  • Relaxed, real conversation that reveals real people behind the words
  • Solid bonds forged between people which last long after the meeting

Practice makes…Perfect!

As stated at the start, though the technique is simple, it takes practice. The good news is even the practice will produce the benefits listed above. Try them with your spouse, your children (especially your teens), your neighbor, and even your pastor. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you pick up the habit and how effective this simple technique will be in creating great conversation and building solid relationships. Instead of fearing awkward conversation, you’ll feel prepared and in control.

You’ll have a happy holiday, no question about it!

2 thoughts on “Conquering Conversation at Holiday Gatherings (and Beyond!)

  1. Chris Risse

    I’m sold on reversing. Great technique! I can see some of my daily conversational partners sweating already from reversing. I see the benefits of reversing, but can there be drawbacks? How many times can a conversation be reversed without it becoming annoying?


  2. rsmithcando Post author

    Chris, I’m glad you get the concept, though hearing that your conversational partners are “sweating” from it worries me a little. Remember to use your powers for good and not evil! 😉
    As to the idea of the reverse getting annoying; yes, you must be careful. As stated in the article, it is okay to answer occasionally, too, when you’re comfortable doing so. Just remember that, techniques or not, you’re carrying on a conversation. The advantage of reversing is the depth that can be achieved in that conversation. As always, treating others, or in this case speaking to others, as you would want to be treated or spoken to, is the golden rule that will guide good conversation. Thanks for posting!



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