The other day I wrote about the people we’ve gathered around our table over the years. I wrote about how we all have fascinating stories that are part of God’s larger story and part of life is getting to know each other’s stories.
“Well,” you might have said to yourself, “Stories shmories. All fine and dandy for you, but holiday parties are about as fun to me as being chosen as a tribute in the Hunger Games.”
This morning there was a guy and a girl, maybe in their late 20’s sitting near me at Starbucks. I’m thinking morning coffee date. Match.com.
I really wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but it’s possible my natural spy skills automatically kicked in when I heard certain words like “single” and “Christian” crop up.
Here’s the thing. The girl talked about herself nonstop! I kept wanting to stuff a Cranberry Bliss bar in her mouth and say “STOOOOOOP TALKKKKKING! Give the poor guy a chance!”
Yep, most people love to talk about themselves. Who could possibly be more interesting than…you?
But also in the same coffee shop is Tom, who comes in every morning and no matter how friendly I am he seems to have a hard time conversing with me. He just always seems uncomfortable and lonely and I want to give him a big hug and say “It’s gonna be ok.”
All of this has gotten me to thinking about the ways that we connect, especially at holiday parties. Here are a few ideas:
1. Remember that most people are as unsure and insecure in social settings as you may be. Instead of focusing on your discomfort, focus on theirs. Make it your mission to put the other at ease. One way to do that is to find something to genuinely affirm. Even if it’s saying, “Your nose isn’t nearly as big in person as it looks on your FB picture.”
2. Be honest! If you’re at a party and don’t know anyone, say so. Approach someone who looks moderately friendly and say, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m _______ I really don’t know anyone here and am feeling a little out of place, but you don’t look like a psycho killer. How do you know _______? (the host) Can you tell me about some of the people here?” or “Let’s make up outrageous stories about everyone.”
3. Ask the person you’re talking to to teach you something. Everyone’s an expert at something. Find something they are passionate and knowledgeable about and have them tell you about it. This is how I learned how to anesthetize gorillas from a friend who does it. Seriously! (I think I could pull it off if you have an emergency gorilla situation.) I’m still hoping I’ll meet someone someday who can teach me how to hot-wire a car or diffuse a bomb to add to my spy skills.
Caveat: I love hearing people’s stories, but I realize I can come off like Barbara Walters doing an intense interview. I have to watch out so I don’t scare people with my questions.
4. Put away your phone. Duh. Don’t let it become a crutch even if you’re uncomfortable. Put it down. You can do it!
5. Lean in and look others in the eye. 55% of conversation is through body language and only 7% is verbal. Don’t look over their shoulder for someone else you might want to talk to, even if it’s George Clooney. Actually, if it’s George Clooney I’ll give you a pass on this one.
6. If you’re hosting, ask the person least comfortable to help you with something. People always feel better with a task to do, or something in their hands. They love to feel like they can contribute. Ask them to spruce up your bathroom.
Also, if you’re hosting, remember your goal isn’t to have people leave thinking how great you are, but to leave feeling good about themselves.
7. If all else fails, quote the West Wing. Because who doesn’t love a West Wing quote?
Honestly? I always pray before we have people over or before I go somewhere that the people I meet would feel welcome and loved.
What about you? What are your suggestions?