‘Tis the season for holiday parties and if you’d like to come off as loveable as Santa Claus and not grumpy like the Grinch, there are conversational boundaries you should follow. Paul Siddens, a communications professor at the University of Northern Iowa, says some subjects are better to just leave outside in the snow.
“Politics and religion are probably the top two on the list,” Siddens says, “unless you know the people and unless they can not be defensive about talking about those sorts of things and not get personally involved in it, politics and religion are definitely two things.” Whether you’re sipping egg nog with co-workers or relatives, he says chatting doesn’t have to be a challenge, as long as you keep the conversation light.
Siddens says: “If you’re at an office party or a family gathering, either one, avoiding gossip and the family and office secrets and that sort of stuff. It’s usually more productive if you can keep away from those sorts of topics.”
Even if you have to rely on an old stand-by like the weather, he says that might be the best way to go if you find yourself standing beside someone you don’t know very well. “That’s kind of a cliché, people talk about the weather, but at this time of year, there’s a lot to talk about and certainly Iowa’s seen its share of interesting weather so far,” he says, “there are things. You can talk about the weather. You can talk about sports. You can talk about things you’ve been doing lately, hobbies, and those are usually pretty safe.”
He says to establish common ground with your conversation partner and don’t be afraid to sample several topics to find what you might have in common.