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Small Talk Is Right at Home on the Holiday Party Circuit – Houston Chronicle, December 1, 2005
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Standing in the corner, gobbling miniquiches and gossiping with your spouse gets old.

Dedicating a spirited rendition of Wind Beneath My Wings to your boss from atop a coffee table after a few too many martinis was sooo last year.

But skipping out on this year’s holiday party circuit — well, where’s the fun in that?

When it comes to work, neighborhood and family parties, it’s time to join the crowd.

“It’s always terrible, because for five out of eight of us, we’re afraid to talk to strangers. We don’t know what to say,” said Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk. “If you have a crutch to drag along, you’re a lot better off, but that doesn’t save (you) from standing around with your food and not knowing what to do with yourself.”

But, Fine said, this omnipresent awkwardness can be avoided if you just relax, listen and be thoughtful.

“This is a really good time to get out there, be visible and be part of the community,” Fine said. “If it’s absolutely horrible, then leave.”

Here are some people you’re likely to encounter during your holiday rounds and ways to get them talking:

Your neighbor, the unofficial “queen of the holidays,” decked out in a snowflake-appliqué sweater, snowman earrings and a pin that plays Jingle Bells
Try: “The lights on your house really draw attention to our street! You’ve outdone yourself this year.”
Don’t say: “I hope Santa brings you some dough to pay your electric bill.”

Your co-worker’s teenage daughter
Try: “What do you think about the Laguna Beach finale/new Shakira CD/iPod Nano?”
Don’t say: “I can’t believe your mother let you go out in that!”

Your friend’s know-it-all boyfriend you can’t stand
Try: “I can’t believe the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this year.”
Don’t say: “I can’t believe the enormous amount of hot air coming out of your mouth.”

Your boss’s spouse
Try: “What are your plans for the holidays?”
Don’t say: “Wow, you two sure are an unlikely couple.”

The host or hostess
Try: “This broccoli casserole is amazing!”
Don’t say: “This broccoli casserole’s good, even if it doesn’t hold a candle to my wife’s.”

The acquaintance you don’t recognize
Try: “I’m sorry, how do I know you?”
Don’t say: “I have a great memory, and I’m quite sure we’ve never met.”

Your weird, socially clueless, nonresponsive uncle
Try: “I just tried the cinnamon nut bread, and it’s really good.”
Don’t say: “You’re nuts.”


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Debra Fine special on CBS Channel 4 News. Debra Fine is a professional speaker, best selling author, conversation expert, communication guru, and a nationally recognized spokesperson.

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