NSA 15 Year Member National Speaker Association

Tag Archives: overcoming shyness

Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Say What? What To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say.

c950293184ce56f4a0962f3d5977664d

The human heart is a truly amazing mechanism; so hard working and tough under pressure, but oh so easily damaged.

We all have heartbreaks (I can’t even discuss my 7th grade boyfriend saga. A tragedy of epic proportions). Disappointments and suffering and grief and anguish are all part of life. Hooray for us!

We have all heard bad news and immediately gone to that big Rolodex in our head searching, desperately, for the right thing to say. Or we’ve skipped the search and blurted out something clichéd and trite before quickly excusing ourselves to privately negotiate our own foot into our mouth. Or — the worst crime of all — we’ve been faced with bad news and said absolutely nothing.

Neil Rosenthal writes a stellar column in The Denver Post appropriately titled “Relationships.” His January 29th piece highlights the importance of an empathetic response. As Rosenthal points out, a thoughtful response is certainly needed in times of tragedy, but even the day-to-day frustrations that affect us all would benefit from a kind and compassionate acknowledgement.

When dealing with a loss, phrases like: Time heals all wounds or It was his time to go are common. And sort of a cop out. Why? Because they don’t really mean anything to the person who is suffering. They are just words. Words that can leave the listener feeling worse than when they started. Because only words that “honor your feelings of loss and sorrow,” writes Rosenthal, truly honors the emotions around an issue that causes turmoil.

Rosenthal, referencing How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
written by Pat Love (not kidding) and Steven Stosny, makes a case for how important it is to “step into the puddle” with others. Stepping into the puddle means offering our “heartfelt presence, caring concern and participation” when others need it most. And even when they don’t. By employing the puddle technique to everyday life, communication and connection are bound to improve.

So, how exactly does one ‘step into the puddle’ without getting drenched? By offering statements with a little more meat and a lot less fluff — like this:

When your spouse walks in after a long day of work, it’s temping to pull out the eye roll or the Ha! You think YOUR day was long, well let me just tell you about MY day… instead try saying:
I am so sorry about your day and I am so glad to have you home safe and sound. 

When someone is dealing with a death, resist the He’s in a better place or Call me if you need anything and try This must be really difficult; I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a sibling. Your brother was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met — I still laugh at the fun we had skiing in Vail. How are you handling everything?

Whatever the situation — death, job loss, hard day at work, tough day at home with children or even the tragedy of a 7th grade break-up, by acknowledging, truly, the heartache of others, we can make a big impact and — just maybe — lessen the blow.

 

This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

 

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Great article (and hilarious clip) from The Sydney Morning Herald on Awkward Conversations

5c2a5496cf74588766c40926ebc39ff5

 

James Adonis – thank you for this great article – and the clip! All you awkward conversationalists out there, you are not alone. Well, maybe you are alone now, but with a few easy steps, you won’t be for long. Promise!

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014

Wrong Name Can Be A Venti Problem

 

coffee cup

 

Dear Debra:

I’ve been going to the same coffee shop every weekday for two years and the woman behind the counter knows me. She is always saying hello and asking about my dog and my fiancé and she is lovely. She sees me and says Jen! Love those shoes! Come on over here and let me see them! But my name is Nicole. I never corrected her — for two years! Now I don’t know what to do. Do I tell her my name is Nicole or just play along? Help!

Nicole/Jen In Chicago

Dear Nicole/Jen:

Well, you’ve gotten yourself into some hot water here and now the issue continues to percolate, hmm? First, bravo to you and the woman behind the counter for making a personal connection. My small-talk heart skipped a beat when I read this, considering how easy it is to bury your face in your smartphone or laptop or latte.

If I were you, I would correct her now and use humor to do so:
So, I’ve always wanted to be a ‘Jen’ which is the reason I answer to that name when you call — but my name is actually Nicole. I asked my parents to change it to Jen, as it sounds so much better, but they are sort of stuck on Nicole.

Be brave and make the switch now because life is funny and it is more than likely that the moment you resolve to just become Jen forever, someone will walk up to you in that coffee shop, in front of that woman, and exclaim NICOLE! Hey — NICOLE! NICOLE? Is that you? And then you and the coffee-lady-with-the-big-heart-and-the-wrong-name are going to have to end your frothy friendship over something that was once a small order (“tall” in coffee speak) has now grown into a grande or even venti problem.

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014

Teaching Teens The Fine Art of Communication Could Save the World!

 

beyond texting book cover

Technology is a such a blessing… Until it becomes a curse. Or a crutch. Maybe it’s all three, actually, when you really stop to think about it. After all, it’s lovely to text a friend, letting her know you are running late for a get-together but being constantly tethered to a device and the never-ending beeping and ringing can be exhausting. Blessing vs. curse.

But it’s the crutch part that resonated with me to such a level that I wrote my third book, Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers. I didn’t go willingly, as they say.

The book was a result of being asked by my publishers, friends, and colleagues to please write a book for the younger generation. I didn’t want to do it. I texted and emailed and FaceTimed my publisher over and over again refusing. But by then my brain had been tuned into the teenagers and 20-somethings I encountered everywhere I went, and after watching so many of them, including my own, relying on their devices to make it in the world, I relented.

Seeing teenagers constantly head down, earbuds in and hunched over their smartphones really made a mark on me. I first considered going to chiropractic school, knowing that the future generation is going to have loads of neck problems (for all of you entrepreneurs out there, may I suggest considering this line of work because surely there is money to be made) but I am no spring chicken, and small talk is my gig.

So, the book and the blogs and the talks begin now. Not to blow my own horn, but I am basically singlehandedly saving the world. I know, I know — it’s a big job. But without face-to-face communication skills, the next generation will be unable to make conversation, ask for a date, propose to a mate and, thus, create the next generation. The entire human race could die off if we don’t start teaching our teens how to communicate! I don’t know about you, but I’d like some grandchildren one day. And someone to serve me tapioca in the home — when and if the time comes.

How do you teach your teen the proper way to build relationships and interact with others? While my book offers an in-depth approach, these three tips will help you both get started:

Exude Energy:
It’s normal to feel nervous and overwhelmed when entering an unfamiliar situation. Take a deep breath and relax. Can’t? Well, fake it if you can, and remind yourself that everybody else is feeling the same way. Put away your phone and look at others in the eye, smile and extend a firm handshake. It will feel awkward at first, and you will be itching to reach for your device as a way to curb your panic, but force yourself to engage on a human level because it gets easier. I promise. By appearing energetic, interested, engaged and friendly, people will be drawn to you, making the vibe in the room even more inviting and comfortable for you and others.

Break the Ice:
Initiating a conversation with a stranger is a gift that keeps on giving — to both you and the your conversation partner. Even after all these years of small talk, I always enter a room with at least three topics to talk about. Always. So, here are some conversation starters that work:

• How’d you do on the test? The essay part was the toughest for me!
• Have you met the new science teacher?
• Biology is killing me — can we study together?
• I was behind you at the assembly this morning. What did you think about the presentation?
• I love your (band) shirt. Did you know they are playing here this summer?

There is no ‘perfect’ conversation starter, but there is always an ‘A’ for effort, so saying hello first will earn you credit. Sure, you’re going to get rejected sometimes and that’s life. But by trying, and by being kind and genuine, you have a better shot of starting a meaningful exchange.

Introduce (and then Re-Introduce) Yourself:
This is so basic – but so often overlooked! Sometimes you’ve managed to actually start and carry on a great conversation and you walk away realizing that you have no idea what someone’s name is and they have no idea what yours is! Give someone the gift of your name, even if you think they may know you already:

John (to a professor): I was so happy with the B on the final

Professor: Yes, good work.

John: I’m John Smith – I am in your Tuesday/Thursday class and am registering for your course next semester.

Professor: Great, John. I’ll look forward to seeing you in class.

John: Thanks Professor Green; have a good summer.

John re-introduced himself to his professor and established a connection. Next semester, if John needs some additional help or is looking for a reference, he’s already set himself apart from the other hundreds of students Professor Green sees every week. One small exchange can result in big things.

When I look back on my teen years, I shudder at the memories. My hands shook during presentations. My mouth went dry when a boy talked to me. My heart pounded when I walked into a party alone. The tips I shared here — and the others in my book — are not earth-shattering but oh so necessary. Social media may be killing all of of our social skills. But by teaching our teens the basics, and helping them embrace face-to-face communication, we are saving the world! And we have a greater chance of having successful, self-supporting adult children! And grandchildren! And tapioca!

Posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Three Steps to Savvy Sales

images

 

 

 

Everything in life is really sales, isn’t it? Even if you aren’t technically selling something, you are selling something. You are selling a product, your services, yourself.

You’re questioning my logic right now, I can feel it, but think about it for a moment. The ads on television, social media, the radio and the newspaper are there for a reason — to get you to buy whatever it is they’ve got. It could be a ticket to a game, a trip to a restaurant, a better car, a new cable company, a leaner physique, shinier hair, a different credit card carrier or airline of choice. Sales and more sales. All of it.

But even a first date is really a sales pitch. As is persuading a toddler to eat carrots, a teenager to put down the phone, an employee to finish a report and a husband to stop FOR THE LOVE OF GOD telling that same, long story that you have heard a thousand times. Life is really one gigantic sales pitch. Sigh.

So how do you get your customers to buy that car, that facelift, that training seminar? How do you get the three-year-old to power through a plate of vegetables and Miss Right to say “yes!” to whatever you happen to be suggesting (which is really none of my business but I am rooting for you anyway)? By building a relationship, of course.

Relationship-building in business is nothing new. After all, it’s why Coca-Cola is and always will be Coca-Cola. They’ve managed to appeal to the masses while making us each feel special. They’ve inserted themselves into American history and sold us on nostalgia and patriotism and even Santa Claus. It’s quite a feat. But what Coca-Cola, like Walt Disney or Steve Jobs or that first guy that was selling OxyClean understands — granted, on a different level than us — is that you must know who your customers are and what they need. Or want. Or think they need. Or think they want. Follow me?

I know that there is an incredible amount of information out there on customer care, and trying to synthesize it all here would be impossible. Still, there are simple strategies that anyone, even the non-Steve-Jobs of us, can adopt. Here are my favorites:

Be Normal:
It’s harder than it seems. There are a lot of not normal people out there, and we’ve all met them. The slick sales guy selling snake oil still exists, he’s just morphed into a telemarketer or a multi-level marketing guru. The best way to earn your customers’ goodwill is to present yourself as a humble, respectful individual. I don’t mean present yourself as that person, actually be that person. By being human and politely inquisitive, you put customers and clients at ease; and as the saying goes, “people buy from people they like.”

Be Clear:
What makes sense to you does not always make sense to someone else. You, after all, are an expert in your field. If your customer were an expert in your field, he or she would not be a (potential) customer, he would be a colleague or a competitor, or even your boss! Explain information from the customer point of view and watch for that look of understanding before plowing ahead. If you notice signs of confusion or something that resembles a stroke, slow down and ask if there is a need for clarification. This is not the time to show off, using all the acronyms and jargon and technical terms. Can’t stop yourself? Go back to the Be Normal step and review.

Be Savvy:
Asking a potential customer a good question can offer a great amount of feedback. Do your research prior to meeting with a new customer, and learn as much as you can about them and their business. You are wasting their time (and yours) if you don’t take this crucial step. Plus, it provides a great opportunity for small talk, of which I am a fan, as you know. Open ended questions, such as “How can I help?” sound almost too simple, but they work. Once you have a rapport going, provide customers with specific information on what your product or service does, but emphasize how it can help THEM, instead of simply listing all the bells and whistles: Will your services increase productivity or revenue? Are you a more-reliable, cost-effective resource? The more you understand a customer’s particular goals, the more likely you are to provide them with a solution to their problem, instead of just a quick fix.

Customer care is a huge topic, but the steps to success are really quite simple. Be forthright and honest. Tell them the truth in an attractive way, without exaggerating. If your product or service is the right fit, and if you approach your customers on their level and keep their goals in mind, you are on your way to building a relationship with a client. That’s almost as good as a trip to Disney.

Posted on Monday, January 13th, 2014

How To Accept A Compliment – Without Complicating It.

compliments

 

Most of us are out there in there in the world giving it our all. Looking good, working hard, being a true friend, an attentive parent, a dedicated employee and a contributing member to society takes a lot time and energy. I mean, just drying my hair takes a solid 43 minutes. It’s not easy being me, you know? And wouldn’t it be nice if just once, someone noticed?

Yet when someone DOES notice, and they do, many of us either freeze up or immediately disregard the kind words coming at us. Why?

According to Robin Abrahams, columnist for the Boston Globe, people feel that when they acknowledge a compliment, they are validating it and, thus, patting themselves on the back. “Gosh, yes, drying my hair DOES take in inordinate amount of time and upper body strength!” seems, oh I don’t know, ridiculous.

But, according to Abrahams, deflecting a compliment is not modest or unpretentious; it’s actually a bit rude. After all, someone has taken the time to not only notice you and your efforts, but has gone a step further and actually acknowledged it. That’s nice, right?

You’d think hearing nice things about yourself would be easy, but in fact negativity weighs heavy. Aaron Ben-Zeev, a Ph.D quoted in Psychology Today, simplifies it: “To sum up, negative emotions are more noticeable than positive ones since attending to negative events is more important for our survival than attending to positive events.”

Is that why accepting a compliment is tough, because we are built with the fight or flight mechanism that saves us from something scary and, therefore, we are gravitate toward something negative versus positive? To put it simply: Is running from a bear easier than accepting a heartfelt compliment?

Let’s hope not. I’ve never run from a bear, but that sounds sort of hard.

Here’s the good news: I do know the secret to accepting a compliment. Are you ready? Here it comes:

Say “Thank you.”

Yep, that’s it. Just say thank you. Resist the urge to discount yourself and, in doing so, the complimenter (let’s pretend that’s a real word just for today, okay?). Resist the “Oh, this old head of hair?! I’ve had it forever! It’s nothing, really,” comeback and be a gracious complimentee (let’s pretend that’s another word, just for today).

Here are some responses to get your through what should be a great small talk exchange but could, in fact, cause you to panic as if you are, well, running from a bear. Remember, you can accept a compliment and still gently lead the conversation in another direction which is the sign of the true small talk pro that you are — here’s how:

Is that a new car? I like the color!
Thank you! I’ve never had a red car before and I am enjoying it.

I loved your speech.
Thank you. I am so glad you liked it.

Dinner was delicious.
Thank you. My sister made it years ago and it’s become a family favorite. What’s your go-to recipe?

Your children are so polite.
Thank you. That’s a really lovely thing to say.

Your new book is great!
Thank you; hearing that makes the hard work worth it. What else are you reading these days?

I can tell you worked hard on that report.
Thank you. It’s nice of you to notice.

Your hair looks fabulous.
Thank you. Now, check out my arms!

Posted on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Get OUT! How To End A Nice Conversation Nicely

 

get out

I am guessing you, like me, are decompressing from a holiday season full of social gatherings. Dinners and cocktail parties and brunches and school programs seem to quadruple in size during the months of November and December. Some are fancier than others. I mean, some of us even had soirees at The White House. I won’t mention any names, no reason to brag.

Okay — it was ME! Yes, I was in the nation’s capital last month and had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, my sister Naomi, and Governor Bill Ritter. Not necessarily in that order. Naomi still gets my vote.

This year’s Holiday Collection of blogs included how to start a conversation and how to break into a group who is already happily conversing, so by now you are feeling good, yes? You small-talked away with a previous stranger or enagaged in a lively discussion with a group. But then you want to…

Get. Out.

Yes, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the chatting and you’ve used your skills to shine, but all good things must come to an end. Even a lively interchange that you, in fact, initiated. Here’s where honesty and maybe a little humor go hand-in-hand. If you are kind and to the point, you should be able to extricate yourself from the conversation without damaging the relationship or, more importantly, the other person’s ego.

In my book, The Fine Art of Small Talk, I dedicate an entire chapter to this very topic, but it’s the holiday season and there is no time for chapters — only short cuts. First, find a natural break in the conversation, whether it is someone else joining the group or the ending of a funny story. Then, smile, offer your hand, and use a direct, kind approach to disengage. Here are a few one-liners to help you on your way out:

The key is to be authentic. Do not lie. I have heard too many stories of people saying they had to go call the babysitter only to be caught minutes later by the conversation dumpee yukking it up on the other side of the room. So do what you say you are going to do and do not make false excuses. When it comes to conversational clout, you’ve got to take your oath seriously, White House or not.

Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Holiday Collection: Breaking In Without Breaking Out in a Cold Sweat

Debra with The Bidens!

 

So by now you know that I recently spent a few days and nights gallivanting around DC with elected officials.

Wait. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Gallivant may be the wrong word as I am not — and will never be — Rielle Hunter.

But I did spend time at The White House and at Vice President Joe Biden’s private residence and it was and still is unforgettable. Being in the small talk business is a benefit for me because I usually don’t have the panic that others often experience when walking into an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar faces and starting a conversation. For those of you who suffer — and I know many of you do — I remember your pain. Last week’s blog included four simple steps to starting a conversation with a stranger; a little pre-holiday gift to keep you merry and bright. But what happens if you don’t find a singleton in the room? What if everyone is already grouped together and chatting merrily while you are standing alone, feeling foolish?

Breaking in is hard to do, especially when it comes to conversation. You don’t want to continue to stick out like the Lone Ranger without Tonto. You also don’t want to start lurking around like…well…I was going to say Rielle Hunter but that would be in poor taste. So, let’s just say you don’t want to start lurking around.

Not to fret my fellow small-talkers! There are simple, non-lurky ways to find your way into a group conversation. Here’s how:

Fake a seizure.

Kidding — here’s how to do it:

If there is someone specific in the room that you have been hoping to meet and he is engaged in a conversation with another person, wait patiently and then approach the OTHER person, your target’s conversation partner. Politely, ask for the other person’s permission to interrupt:

Hi, I’m Debra Fine. Excuse me for intruding, but I’ve been trying to connect with Bob for weeks. Would you mind if interrupted you both for just a moment?

Most people are gracious enough to agree.

The other option is to tap the shoulder of your intended conversation cohort and state your wishes:

Hi, I am Debra Fine. Excuse me for intruding, but I promised myself to connect with you, Bob, before the evening ends. Please look for me when you have a free moment.

At this point you will either be invited to join the conversation or Bob’s partner will excuse himself and move on (he may have been ready for greener pastures anyway, so double kudos). If neither of these things happens, Bob will know you made an effort and will likely seek you out later.

Attempting to break into a larger group? Try this:

Stand slightly away from the group, but show interest in the speaker while waiting for the group to acknowledge you. They will likely physically shift a bit to allow you into the inner circle.

Ease your way into the conversation by acknowledging that you have been listening. You can do this by nodding your head, smiling, or chuckling at a funny quip that’s been shared.

Look for visual cues that some or all of the group has warmed to you. At that point, you know you’ve been officially welcomed to use your small talk skills like the pro you are. No Rielle Hunter or fake seizures necessary.

Posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Small Talk at The White House (yes – that White House)

White house 1

 

 

I’m going to a cocktail party at The White House next week. Yes, Debra Fine will be drinking champagne at The White House. Do I sound like I am bragging? I’m not. Well, maybe a smidge. But I am, in a word, thrilled. I have a feeling that Mrs. Obama and I will become lifelong friends and share workout tips, but I digress.

Back to business. While I am elated to be attending two VIP cocktail receptions in the nation’s capital (yes, I will also be at a little soiree with Vice President Joe Biden but didn’t want to rub it in), I know that the holiday cocktail party, whether at the White House or at your neighbor’s house, can cause distress for many of you. How do I know? From you! You’ve told me on Facebook, in Q&A sessions following a keynote speech, in personal emails, even in line at the grocery store! Not to fret, fellow small-talkers, navigating a cocktail reception is not as tough as you think.

Like everything else, there is a beginning, middle, and end.  It makes sense to start with the beginning, and get to the middle and end of a good cocktail party conversation in parts two and three of this series, respectively.

Let’s assume that you’ve got your icebreakers and three or four topics in mind for when a conversation starts happening. You’ve practiced your most winning smile in the privacy of your bathroom mirror, you don’t have any food in your teeth and you still remember your own name. All good things. So you arrive at an event where you know nobody and you wait for someone to approach you, right?

No, no, no. Remember, the holidays are all about giving — so give yourself and someone else the gift of conversation. When you enter a room, look around for others that are standing on their own. You can usually find these folks hovering around the buffet or obsessively checking their phone or standing much too close to a potted plant. These people are nervous and feeling awkward and, because of that, will be your very best listeners because you, savvy small talker that you are, are about to relieve them from feeling completely panicked and self-conscious.  Go you.

Be the first to make eye contact and smile at a stranger.  And if they don’t smile back, I will send you a paperweight from the president’s desk. Don’t ask me how I got it.

Once you’ve established eye contact, introduce yourself and offer a handshake.

Hello, I’m Debra Fine.

If the other person speaks your language, and you don’t receive a handshake and a name in return, I will send you a paperweight from Mrs. Obama’s desk (I believe she uses hers for bicep curls because wow, those arms, but I digress — again.).

Once you receive a name and a handshake, use the other person’s name and one of your icebreakers to get the conversation going. I find a statement/question combination to be the best bet:

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ken. This is my first visit to the White House inner sanctum and it’s more than I imagined! What’s your history with visiting the White House?

Notice I did not pose a yes or no question, because then Ken and I might hit a roadblock. Instead Ken has the chance to either tell me he has never been to the White House, and then we can talk about being newbies to the whole experience; or Ken can tell me he has attended several functions, and then I can ask him about some of the highlights; or Ken can tell me he took his children on the standard White House tour and now I have some insight that Ken is a father and I can take the conversation in that direction. No matter what Ken’s response, the conversational path is lit for me. Let’s pretend that Ken is new, like me:

Isn’t this exciting, Ken? What surprises you most about being here?

The statement/question pattern is effective for starting and continuing conversation, especially if you keep the question open-ended (not a yes/no question). Now Ken and I are on our way to a meaningful exchange and Ken and I are not both standing alone in the middle of what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be wined and dined at the White House.

See? It’s as easy as that.

It is.

At the end of the day, there are really four short steps to starting a conversation: • Find an approachable person • Make eye contact • Smile • Offer your name to them and use their name in conversation
Giving the gift of conversation is worthwhile to everyone. True success comes from taking the first step and saying hello. The topic is not nearly as important as the effort. So exercise your conversational muscle and do some heavy lifting when it comes to making small talk, because connecting with another person is even more important than sporting rock-hard biceps. I promise.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

She Said WHAT? Ten Things Not to Say at the Thanksgiving Table.

 

thanskgiving debTwo topics seem to dominate the morning shows during Thanksgiving week: what is the most fattening thing on the table and how to create the most decadent holiday menu. Is it just me, or does it seem counterproductive to dish on the heart-attack-inducing fat and calories in sausage stuffing while also talking about how to make the very best of said stuffing?

No matter, though, because you’ve got way bigger problems than creating the most succulent turkey while subsequently keeping the button on your pants from popping off and dinging someone in the neck. You actually have to sit at a table and converse with people. I know, I know — you almost forgot that part, didn’t you? Most people do. Everyone is so caught up in ironing napkins and fretting over burned pie crusts that by the time the actual celebration hits, there is a table full of guests ready to eat, drink and be conversational and then — whoops — conversation turns to confrontation. It’s like magic. Dark, spooky magic.

As you might imagine my years of small talking across the country have allowed me to hear loads of stories about awkward, painful, or downright rude comments made at the Thanksgiving table. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the good things in life. And that includes the people around your table. Yes, all of them. YES, even Uncle Joe.

So — I am sharing with you my some of the most heinous conversation killers so you can both avoid saying them and dodge them if they come your way.

Debra Fine’s Top Ten Thanksgiving “Oh No, She Didn’t?!” Just Say That List:

1. “So! Any wedding plans?” or, next, “Any baby news yet?” Many of us (me included, I must admit) presume that running the dating marathon reaches the marriage finish line. No. And no again. As for the baby question, think first! What if the couple is struggling to conceive, doesn’t want to have children or is expecting but not ready to share the news? So pipe down. If someone wants you to know their intimate intentions, you will. Try this: “Catch me up on what’s happening since I last saw you two.”

2. “I heard Sarah got into Northwestern… why in the world is she going to Michigan State instead?” Maybe Sarah just loves green and white. Maybe Sarah didn’t really get into Northwestern. Maybe the economy has put a damper on attending private institutions. Maybe you should just pass the gravy. Try this: “I hear Sarah was accepted to a number of universities; what swayed her decision to go to MSU?” 3.”No, thanks. I gave up drinking after I see how it ruins families.” This is meant to deliberately point a finger, and everyone knows it. If you must address someone’s overindulgence, do it in private! Making someone feel bad about him or herself does not typically drive better behavior. It drives people to — well, I was going to say ‘drink,’ but that seems inappropriate here. Try this: “I’d love some water, thank you.”

4. “This house is so much smaller than your old one!” Um, yes, homeowners are aware of their square footage. Falling APRs and zero interest loans created a housing crisis for basically everyone, not just those strangers you read about in the newspapers. Try this: “What’s the best part of celebrating your first Thanksgiving in your new house?”

5. “Betcha wish you didn’t vote for him now!” Stop gloating and remember that we are all in this together. And karma is real. Start ridiculing your guests’ choice of candidates and I guarantee yours will turn up on the front page with a drug problem. Or a mistress. Or a mistress with a drug problem. You get the picture… and it’s an ugly one. Try this: “Who wants potatoes?”

6. “How much pie have you had?” or “Why aren’t you eating anything?” Leave everyone alone and let others eat or not eat; just worry about yourself and what you are putting in your own mouth which, at this point, seems to be your foot. Just because you slaved over the pumpkin pie or prepared three types of jello does not mean everyone is required to indulge. I mean, I would eat the three types of jello but …. Try this: “Everything is delicious.”

7. “I just can’t imagine being a stay-at-home mother — what do you do all day?” Oh, no no no — this is one of the lowest blows because it typically pits woman against woman and that is a crime! We must stick together, whether we are running a Fortune 500 company or running another load of laundry. Your job as a guest is to show genuine interest in your conversation partner; ask questions that elicit a thoughtful and honest response. Try this: “What surprised you about becoming a stay-at-home mother?” or “What part of the day do you love?” or “Walk me through a typical day at your house/office?”

8. “Nice shirt” (followed by an eye roll or a heavy sigh). Leave him alone. His priorities are not the same as yours. Appreciate that he is wearing a shirt. And hopefully pants. Period. Try this: “Nice shirt” (minus the eye roll and heavy sigh).

9. “Your son looks just like you and your daughter looks like she could be from a different family? Is she the milkman’s baby?” What if she IS the milkman’s baby? What if she is adopted? Personal questions that you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. I repeat — personal questions you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. These include:

“Did your son graduate?”

“How is the boyfriend?”

“Are you going to get him some braces?”

“Did she go to prom?”

“How’d she gain all that weight?”

“How’d she lose all that weight?”

“Did she find a job yet?”

Try this: “What’s the latest news on Jane?”

10. “Delicious! Did you cook this or order it?” You may be asking because you sincerely wish to know how you can create this dish yourself, but you are putting the host/hostess on the spot. Instead, compliment the dish and ask for the recipe after the meal. If it was not homemade, maybe she will confess. Or not. Try this: “Happy Thanksgiving everyone