It’s holiday party season. Do you know what kind of conversationalist you are?
Are you the kind of person who waits impatiently for your friend to finish her story just so you can one-up her with your even bigger, even more horrible tale? Or are you the kind of person who listens and nods and allows the talker to finish their thoughts? Do you tire of people who say the same thing over and over and over again? Or do you ask follow up questions to veer them into a different direction with their speech?
I’ve attended three holiday parties in the last two days. I decided to switch things up this year and do more listening than talking. It’s interesting what you learn and glean from various personalities when you look and listen. There was a lady at one of the parties who clearly loved to talk. She could barely wait for you to finish your sentence before jumping in with her own tale of woe. But I discovered that, when I didn’t talk at all, she eventually had nothing to say.
I suppose she’s a reactionary talker/listener… No real topics on her own, but happy to jump in on whatever it is that you say.
There was another lady who said everything three times. Perhaps she was a pastor in training? It was odd and a bit annoying. I kept wanting to say “I heard you the first two times!” She also asked how I met my husband. I gave her the 30-second story version. Immediately after I finished she said, “well, let me tell YOU how I met my husband!” Her grand tale was 45 minutes in the telling, with each detail accented with an elbow prod to my arm or increasingly heavy handslaps to my shoulder.
I’d never been elbowed or slapped while listening to such an animated talker before. So, I excused myself from this conversation by begging off to refill my drink.
Yet another lady, at a different party, slapped a business card into my hand and said she wanted to help me plan out my future, buy a house and buy life insurance. She then asked where I worked, and after telling her, she offered to come by the office if I host a day-long financial management seminar where of course, she could sell her services.
This lady wasn’t trying to listen or talk! She was just trying to sell. And frankly, I think that’s inappropriate at a family-oriented holiday party. You lose all kinds of cool points by trying to force your wares upon unsuspecting folks.
And finally, another lady kicked off the conversation by talking about another conversation she’d had with friends. It was a truth or dare hen party, she said. The dare was this: Tell me how many times you’ve cheated on your husband. According to the talker, all of the women admitted to being cheaters. That’s when the hostess of the holiday party came over and said, “Whoa! Why are we talking about this?” The hostess really didn’t want such talk at Christmas. So the initial talker changed the subject.
All this to say, I learned a lot by listening. I learned that some of the guests were genuinely interested in wishing holiday spirit. Those were the ones who talked of family and friends and thanksgiving. Others, like the financial lady, were only interested in my job status and what I could do for them. And a handful wanted an audience for their long and boring tales.
Here then, are my overwhelming listener takeaways, or rules, if you will.
1. Stand about a foot away from anyone who is drinking. They spit when they talk.
2. Better yet, stand to the side of the person talking, not in front of them. That way, the spit flies away from your person.
3. Learn to ask “tell me more,” or “why” when someone tells you a story.
4. With very few exceptions, most people can’t talk about themselves for more than three minutes at a time. They need a break, which is when you can go to the bathroom.
5. Not everything is appropriate table or party conversation.