Do You Hate Small Talk? Here’s How to Survive This Holiday Season

The thought of making small talk with complete strangers makes some of us break into a cold sweat. It can feel so awkward, but itís nearly a requirement at holiday season events like office parties, family dinners and gatherings with friends.

You donít have to dread your next holiday get together. Make the most of it with the following tips on how to schmooze like a pro, and have fun doing it.

How to Read the Crowd

A moment often arrives at a party when you find yourself completely alone. Maybe your host has moved on to other guests, or youíve returned from the bathroom. And there you are, standing alone staring at the group of partygoers. What do you do now?

See if you know anyone

Are there any faces you recognize in the crowd? Even if itís someone you donít know well, such as a co-worker you briefly met from another department, or a family member from out of town, you still have something in common that you can start a conversation around.

Watch for welcoming body language

Is anyone making eye contact with you? This is usually a good sign, whether the person is standing alone or in a group. Try to smile at the person, and if they smile back, take that as an invitation to approach and introduce yourself. Whereas, two people standing shoulder to shoulder or groups in tightly closed circles are likely not open to newcomers.

Look for other single people

Is anyone else standing alone? Chances are theyíre feeling as awkward as you might be. Approach them and see if theyíre open to a conversation. Try saying something inviting like, ďHi! Did you get any of the appetizers? They look great.Ē

Ask if you can help

If you donít see an opportunity to approach anyone in the main group, try looking for ways you can offer to help. Maybe you can serve drinks or appetizers, take photos or hang coats. These will all give you opportunities to socialize, and may be easier ways to break the ice with people you donít know.

Related: Body Language Cues You Should Know

What To Say

Introduce yourself

Once youíve approached someone, start by making comfortable eye contact, holding out your hand and introducing yourself. A simple, ďHi, Iím ErinĒ is all you need, with a firm handshake.

Say what brought you to the party

At an office party, you could share what area you work in. Or at a friendís gathering, you could say how you know the host. Itís a good way to start finding things in common with another person.

Talk about what interests you

Small talk doesnít have to be meaningless chatter. Itís usually best to stick to neutral topics like the weather, movies or food that most people can share an interest in. But take those as a starting point and try to talk about what really interests you. You could say something like, ďIím happy it finally snowed, now I can get out snowshoeing,Ē or ďI see our host is serving a locally-made wine, have you been to the winery?Ē

Keep it positive

A party is not an appropriate place to make negative comments about work, complain about family members or spout your opinions on controversial topics. Especially when youíre amongst people you donít know very well, itís easy to accidentally offend someone.

Be long-winded

If someone asks you a question, donít answer with only one or two words. For example, if they ask you where youíre from, you could say something like, ďIím from Vancouver. Itís a beautiful city, with so many things to do. You always have the choice of spending a day at the beach or in the mountains.Ē

Try a conversation starter

If youíre really stuck, keep a few of these conversation starters in mind.

  • Do you have any plans for the holidays? Are you traveling anywhere?
  • How do you feel about New Yearís resolutions? Will you make any this year?
  • What was your favorite part about this past year?
  • Did you have any favorite holiday traditions growing up?
  • What did you do this weekend?
  • What do you like to do for fun?

Advanced Survival Skills

Arriving on time

You may be tempted to come to an event late to keep your visit short, but arriving on time can have its benefits. There will be less people and activity at the start of the evening, which will make it easier to have conversations.

And if youíre really not enjoying yourself once the party picks up, it wonít be as obvious if you leave a little early. Everyone has seen you from the start, so your host is unlikely to be offended if you slip out in the middle of the event.

Disabling your phone

Remember thereís always a reason youíre at a holiday event, whether itís an office party, a family dinner or another get together. Staying engaged and mingling with the other partygoers can strengthen work, family and social relationships, which can have many far-reaching benefits down the road.

Using your phone during a party can quickly kill many of these opportunities. Itís an all-too-easy way to avoid interacting with people when youíre feeling anxious. Your phone should be turned off for the duration of the evening, and preferably left somewhere safe far away from you, like locked in your car. This will prevent any temptation to check it during down times.

Ending a conversation

Perhaps a conversation is going places you really donít want it to go. Or maybe youíve seen someone else youíd like to speak to instead. Whatever the reason, itís alright to politely end a conversation with someone and move on at any time.

A good way to wrap up a conversation is to make a comment about the topic, say the personís name and gently part ways. For example, you could say something like, ďIt was great to hear about your ski vacation, Rob. I hope weíll meet on the slopes one day. Enjoy the rest of your evening.Ē Then you can shake hands if itís appropriate, and move on.

Making your final exit

Youíll likely know when itís a good time to leave the party. Youíve spoken to most of the people there, activities are winding down, you might be starting to feel a bit bored or other attendees are starting to leave.

Donít hesitate to prepare your exit. Say your goodbyes to other partygoers, retrieve your coat, thank your host and head home knowing you now have the skills to make it through your holiday social events with ease.

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Linda M
Linda M14 days ago

If I'm with my family and very good friends, it's okay. Otherwise, I'm not interested in hearing comments/life stories while shopping, etc. A friend actually shops with earbuds in her ears (and sometimes sunglasses). The earbuds aren't connected to any device, ha, ha. It works, though.

Elaine W
Elaine W14 days ago

As long as I stay out of conversations about religion and/or politics. ;-)

caroline l
caroline lord20 days ago


Andrea S
Andrea S25 days ago

in a way i'm glad i have such an insular and nuclear family and few friends... makes for easier holidays, and no small talk at all!!! thank gawd!

Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie28 days ago

Thank you so very much.

j m
j mabout a month ago

ha comments

Angela J
Angela Jabout a month ago

Small talk is so hard.

Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a month ago


Clare R
Clare Rabout a month ago

What's wrong about small talk

Ann B
Ann Babout a month ago

not so much small talk but the people that take the conversation on and on about something you are not interested in....and PLEASE NO grandbaby photos or vacation trips egad