Getting ready to spend lots of time with family and friends over the next week, so wanted to share some great options for conversation starters. As a child counting down to spending time with family was easy, just show up and hang out with whatever kids are there. As an adult it becomes a bit trickier to navigate the conversations at all family gatherings. I started playing this game while driving to family gatherings with my husband to help give him ice breakers when people came to talk to him, he is a man of few words, so we always came up with a few questions to ask. These range from current events, weather, sports to many other items. We always joke, but in all honesty remind ourselves to keep these topics off limits at family gatherings:
1- Politics – even if you are like minded or polar opposites, you don’t need to spend the family time debating politics. Go out for coffee or a drink on your own time to discuss your love or hate of each other’s political opinions.
2- Religion – see politics above and use the same tactics….just avoid, unless you are going to talk about how cute your kids were in the church choir, Christmas program….etc. This is not the time to preach to your family on religion, you are together to share time and hopefully some amazing food, make time outside of the family gathering to discuss religion.
3- Money – unless you just won the lottery and are handing out houses or cars to everyone in the room, do not talk about money. Who has money, who doesn’t have money and especially how much things cost. This is tacky and should come with a buzzer option at family gatherings. If you are in my family and have won the lottery recently, please sit next to me at dinner, we have LOTS to talk about. 🙂
If you can avoid the trifecta (Politics, Religion, $$) you should be in good shape to navigate any family gathering with as few issue as possible. This may sound very odd and quirky to some that we would discuss questions to ask our family, but like a lot of people, we see some of our family only a few times a year. We have a wonderful time, but it is not always the easiest picking up and talking to family you don’t see that often. This is not all our family and for our family that is reading, thank you, but don’t assume you are making a cameo in this post. My suggestion and I remind my husband of this all the time, if you get someone talking about something like enjoy, you don’t have to do a lot of talking, they will do it for you. Don’t ask “Yes” or “No” questions, because you are going to have to ask a lot of questions to keep your perfect sofa spot next to the cousin who only answers “yes” or “no” back to your questions. We all know the situation, get the perfect spot at the family gathering but you must then interact with whomever plops down near you, be prepared with your best questions to keep that seat.
Here are some great topics to use the next time you are in a pinch and don’t know what to talk about:
1- Travel – where have you been lately? Where is the most interesting place you went this year? Do you have any trips planned? What is your favorite vacation spot, we are trying to find some place new. You can see how this theme and game work, take a simple topic and expand, this works for many age ranges as well. Our family gatherings have a wide age range, and it is hard to connect with kids as well as senior members, but kids of all ages love to talk about vacation or favorite places to travel.
2 – Weather – this is 90% safe, but I would suggest being up on current events and weather a bit if you are going to ask how the weather has been. Flooding, hurricanes, fires…etc have sewn havoc on our country and I don’t want you to create chaos.
3 – Movies and TV – you will shortly find out if you don’t already know, that I love TV and movies. TV more recently due to the limited amount of time I have to watch movies, and TV shows fit into our schedule right now. Most people watch TV and if they don’t, please know you have my permission to get up and get more food or another drink. You should not have to speak to someone who doesn’t watch TV. Joking, but this 9 times out of 10 works very well and you may get a great suggestion of a new show or new movie you have not watched.
4- Family – now this sounds a bit odd, as the whole point of this post is about family gatherings, but there are always people at our family gatherings that are family and we are fiercely loyal to them. They do have other family as well, so this is a great way to personalize your question to the person and ask how their family is. You will get bonus points if you mention names, but if not your question will still be heartfelt and you may get some great gossip.
**If you know of a new baby that has arrived, ask about that, you will be golden to not ask another question for a long time, be prepared for picture overload!
5 – Health – this is ranked as my last one because you are going to need to either know some background history of the person you are asking this question, or be ready for whatever is going to come out of their mouth. I do think if you know someone has been going through some health issues, it is ALWAYS appropriate and thoughtful to ask how they are doing. Some people will share more than you need to know (be prepared for pictures and some scar showing off) and other people will give you the tried and true answer, I am fine. Words of advice, if you do ask someone how their health is, and you find out something you didn’t know, please follow back up with them earlier than normal to check in on them. You are hypothetically spending the holidays with this person and if they share information with you, it would be great to follow up with them. But do be prepared, some family members do love to talk about
My advise is to always have a list of the top 3 questions you have in your back pocket, if you get stuck for longer than you want talking to someone who will not carry a conversation, excuse yourself gracefully and limit the awkwardness.
Last piece of advice to you and a big reminder to me as we pack up and travel for the next week. Don’t try to change or persuade someone at the family gathering to your way of thinking. You may only see some of these people less than a handful of times throughout the year, why are you going to debate or try and change them? Enjoy the time you have together, enjoy the food, drinks and hopefully you will get to take home some left overs. If you feel strongly about debating with someone, plan a date with them one on one after the family gathering to debate said subject over coffee or wine. But do it on your own time, not at the family function!
Let me know which ice breaker topic works best on your family, I have ranked them in order of how they work for me in my personal experience, but will continue to test and learn.