Holiday gathering etiquette & those tricky conversations

The holidays may well be a time of good cheer, great food and lots to drink – but throw in close family members, moody relatives and new partners and suddenly things can get a whole lot less ‘cheery’.

So here is the ultimate guide to steering clear of those awkward holiday conversations and keeping everyone smiling and …still talking to each other!

Timing is everything
It’s all gameplay and judgement. People will check the time of your arrival and come to irrational conclusions based on that information. You can’t actually win here, but at least make your arrival a Goldilocks arrival. Not too early…. never too late. There’s no point in losing early points over something you have complete control over*

*Winter storm warning. OK, sometimes, you don’t have complete control and the weather/car/airline can screw your best laid plans. When this happens – always connect with your hosts at the earliest opportunity to lay the groundwork for your tardy arrival. Never leave them all in the dark and arrive – staggering in under piles of excuses.

Deal with it early
Got difficult announcements to make? Get them out of the way nice and early. Once said – the venom, recriminations, tears and blame can all be dealt with before the turkey comes out the oven!! In addition – pick your location carefully! Revealing the shocking news while standing around the kitchen is a whole lot easier than when trapped around the holiday table!

If you are the recipient of the “life change” announcement – try to hold back the rage/tears/questions and let them tell you the whole story first! This approach may well temper your eventual response and takes a lot of the heat out of the eventual conflict!

Keep an eye – on yourself
With the alcohol flowing and the familiar surroundings – it can be understandably easy to conversationally ‘let go’. Sometimes… that can lead to trouble! Take a moment to consciously ‘buffer’ your thoughts and words before they stream out. Imagine you are at work – before issuing your sweeping statements on healthcare or Miley Cyrus – double check with your boss (yourself!!) first!!

Big City – big envy! (big rats)
If you moved to an exciting city or a cool new location – always remember that those who stayed behind are nowhere near as excited as you are about those cool bars and Michelin-starred chefs. When you finally get back home – play it down to keep things on an even keel! The correct etiquette is to always adapt to your host.

This rings true in all situations. So, if YOU are the one now living in a small town and heading to the big city to be with family for the holidays – try not to condemn the noise, filth and occasional rats – if it’s what makes your host happy..so be it!!

What did I just say??
As the meal progresses, keep a close eye on everyone – they will always DISPLAY upset before they say anything. Leaning back, crossing arms, raising eyes – all good indicators that you might have just said “the wrong thing”!! This is the L-WAR – a battle we fight in business but also with friends and family. It is the key to communication excellence. Listen, Watch, Anticipate…and then respond/react!! If you see a negative physical response, try to ‘rescue’ the situation before the words come out!

Look, a squirrel!
When you sense that a conversation might be heading in the wrong direction – immediately ‘remember’ something fascinating that you recently saw and distract people – it’s the conversational equivalent of actually releasing a squirrel into the house – you should get the same result…distraction!

Storming out!
Do not attempt to dramatically storm out. Unless you have meticulously planned the ‘performance exit’ (with bags already packed and in the car) you will invariably have to come back to ‘get your stuff’ – an event which somewhat nullifies the original departure.

Don’t go there
Unless you want to start World War 3 – try your best to avoid: Politics and Religion. They may be the subjects about which you have most passion…but it’s that very passion that will stoke the fires of battle leaving your holiday table resembling the battlefields of Sparta.

Happy Holidays!!

PS – “The Art of Business Influence – Selling without Selling” – the innovative and engaging e-learning course from Mark Jeffries is available now! The course is HERE

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