We’ve got you covered. Here, a catch-up cheat sheet…
The holiday season and its glory of mulled wine, sparkle, and all things joy can come to a quick halt when the reality of stress sets in. Besides the unnerving toll of last-minute deadlines, endless to-do lists, and a likely jam-packed schedule, getting together for the holidays can seem like an impossible mountain to climb. Add the fact that I generally hate hiking and that brings us here: slightly irritated.
Let me paint the picture for you. Perhaps you’re with a friend, an acquaintance, or colleague and you’re forced to confront a topic that you really would rather not discuss. It could innocently be misinterpreted as harmless small talk: “when are you guys having a baby?”, “when is he going to propose?”, “are you losing weight?”, “why aren’t you drinking”, “are you seeing someone?” All while a frustrated version of you stands there thinking it’s no ones business.
We have all been asked invasive, personal questions but there is something about the holiday season that inspires those around us to Olivia Pope-style investigate the contents of our lives. The reality is that people around us will forever be nosy, although some are truly just trying to catch up with us and that is where things can get tricky. The question remains: where are the lines crossed and how are we to navigate through conversations we just don’t want to have?
Before diving into some takeaway conversation tips, it’s important to note that the greatest key to navigating any kind of discomfort is
by doing your best impression of Kourtney Kardashian to start recognizing your boundaries. Are some people too invasive? Are you a naturally private person? Are some topics uncomfortable for you and people just don’t get the hint? There truly is a line between using our words and providing enough social cues to let people know you’d rather keep certain subjects to a minimum.
Respond Fair but Firm
It’s probably not the best to freak out when asked something uncomfortable, so opt for utilizing generic responses and learning the art of pivoting. Celebrities do it, politicians do it, so now, it’s your turn to do it. It’s okay to be a bit frank with your responses and be firm enough to set your boundary.
The trigger relationship question: “Are you seeing someone? Getting married? Having a baby? Are you going out on many dates?”
The firm answer: “I’ve been so focused on *insert something here* that I’ve yet to think about that”.
PR pro and president of NKPR, Natasha Koifman, agrees. She tells us, “A great tip for avoiding awkward conversations is to acknowledge the question at hand and bridge into something more positive that you want to talk about. Case and point – you’re at a holiday dinner and grandma asks you about your dating life and when you’re going to have kids for the umpteenth time. A good answer to this could be “I’ve been dating here and there but I actually just got a great promotion at work that I’m really happy about!” – this way you’re turning the conversation into something positive about you that you want to talk more about.” – Natasha Koifman, President NKPR.
This gives you room to talk passionately about something positive you have been doing in your personal life and really gives you room to navigate the conversation and take control. It’s both frank and blunt, so the other person should get the social cue. Anything would work in this sentence and you can bring up books you’re reading, movies you’re into, recent hobbies, recent events and go from there. Once you master the art of being vague, then you’re ready to be a chat ninja. Yes, I just coined a new term. Keep reading.
Be a ninja, if you must.
Learn the art of re-direction. Pivoting will be your best friend. Revert that sh*t right back at them and aggressively ask questions back. Ask questions to the point where they just don’t want to talk to you. That’s a joke, but I digress.
The trigger work question: “What do you do for work? I can’t see you doing that, why aren’t you doing what you used to do?”
The pivot answer: “I work in media where things are ever changing. Do you prefer to read content online or in print? I’m so curious what other people are reading.”
Redirect the conversation to a generic and polite topic for the other person to discuss. In all fairness, not everyone is an introvert and some people can happily talk about themselves and their lives. Utilizing key phrases is going to be key here: “tell me more”, “how’s that been going for you”, “how so” and exhaust them until you can say “if you’ll excuse me” and run.
Confront when needed
Sometimes people will bring up topics you might find hurtful but they think is harmless. This is the reality of perception and the fact that we are all different. This is an easy fix when you appropriately confront the subject at hand. It many not be socially acceptable to be confrontational, but it is important and necessary for growth.
The trigger body image question: “Are you watching your weight? Have you lost/gained weight?”
The answer: “Health is really important to me and I really prioritize making sure I feel healthy both in mind and body. Feeling healthy is my main priority. I don’t want to focus on talking about weight because it’s a sensitive subject to many and doesn’t impact our overall level of health as much as you would think.”
The trigger financial question: “How much money do you make?
The answer: “I’m lucky to make enough to maintain my current lifestyle and work hard to do so. This is a bit of a sensitive subject for people; may I ask why you are asking? Are you looking for a career switch? I’ve read some great career books if you need any recommendations.”
Some may find financial questions rude, although recent media outlets have encouraged women to talk about money with their friends in order to start conversations about wage gaps. It’s important to always consider perspective. Make sure you address things kindly because the other person likely didn’t have the intent to hurt your feelings. Use this opportunity as an educational experience to demonstrate a different perspective to the other person. The upside? Any mature person would embrace this kind of opportunity.
So, what CAN I say to people?
It’s important to seek out some internal dialogue to unearth why you feel a certain subject matter is invasive. It stems from some type of insecurity – and that’s completely okay. It’s necessary, though, to stay aware of our insecurities to decipher what is a story made up in our heads versus the reality of the situation. Although it seems like most subjects are off limits, hear me out. The greatest takeaway here is to learn how to navigate conversations to your control and in a comfortable manner. The trick is to avoid asking people specific questions and leave room for them to answer comfortably. Chances are you will talk about relationships, work, life, health but the difference is that the conversation was intentional by both parties. When in doubt, a simple, “how have you been since I last saw you” can go a long way.