Small talk can be the worst. And during the holidays, we find ourselves chatting with people we sort of know and others we’ve never met before. Between co-workers, your S.O.’s college friends, and your second cousin you haven’t seen since you both had braces, ‘tis the season for lots and lots of idle chatter.
Even if we have the gift of gab, most of us live in fear of the dreaded awkward silence. (“So, um, how ‘bout that weather?”) And having an actual face-to-face conversation seems to get more intimidating the more time we spend behind screens, while the pressure to seem as interesting as our social media profiles suggest ups the ante.
Fortunately, chatting your way through your next get-together doesn’t have to be so excruciating. Think of small talk like a tennis match, says Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, a couples’ therapist in New York. “The goal is to keep the ball going back and forth.”
Before You Go: Put in the Prep Work
Doing a little bit of homework before an event can help ease pre-party anxiety, says Irina Langman, LCSW, a therapist in New York. “Think of subjects you would want to discuss beforehand,” she says. It’s also a good idea to do some research about the host or guest of honor—that way you can bring up the trip they just took to Italy or their passion for surfing if you hit a wall in the conversation.
Think about who you’re talking to and what questions make sense for them.