Beyond the decorations, gingerbread martinis and the perfect party outfit, holiday gatherings are all about the people. That's why part of your preparation as a guest should include being ready to chat.
The spectrum of party talk can range from positively painful to utterly absorbing. For many of us, it's not always easy to initiate conversation, especially with people we don't know well. However, by investing a little effort, you'll enjoy yourself more and widen your social circle as you meet new people or get to know acquaintances better.
- Mingle. Parties are for socializing. Avoid the temptation to engage only with those you know, or to pull out your phone for a mindless distraction. Instead, look for friendly faces or those who seem unfamiliar with other guests. You will enjoy yourself more if you step outside of your comfort zone. Plus, you'll help establish a reputation as a warm invitee. At a work function, capitalize on the opportunity to connect with colleagues from different departments.
- Ask. Don't let the fact that you can't remember someone's name deter you: simply ask for it, then offer yours to refresh their memory as well. "Hi there! Would you remind me of your name? Kim, of course... Diane Gottsman. Nice to see you again! Are you ready for the holidays?"
- Prepare. Compile a mental list of conversation starters. This festive time of year allows for a multitude of common experiences that can spur an opinion or memory in almost anyone. A delightful discussion can be sparked by asking others about their favorite holiday traditions, their go-to holiday movies, the year's hottest gift ideas, travel, shopping, even timely holiday news: "How did you feel about Nordstrom not decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving?"
- Give and take. The best conversations are like gifts: there should be an exchange. The recipe is simple: people take turns sharing their thoughts, then show a sincere interest in what the other person has to say. This can't happen with one person doing all the talking. One of the greatest gestures you can extend is to truly listen to someone.
- Bring the cheer. It's not fitting to talk about anything controversial or divisive, so steer clear of politics, religion, money, gossip or unpleasant current events. Give yourself and your fellow party-goers a reprieve from the 24-hour news cycle. Put talking about work related topics on the naughty list too, especially at the office party. "Upbeat" news, sports, entertainment, the arts and literature are all fair game, to name a few. Make it a personal mission not to bring the conversation to a screeching halt with dire news or doom and gloom. Focus on the yule tide.
- Plan a graceful exit. When the conversation has run its course or it's simply time to move on, there are strategies to bow out in a pleasant way. One of the most courteous is to release the other person: "I don't want to monopolize all your time tonight; I will let you go. But it's been nice visiting with you. Enjoy your evening!" Beware of using the excuse of freshening your drink if you truly are ready to end the conversation; they may follow you. However, you can excuse yourself to say hello to your hostess or use the restroom: "It's been great to catch up. If you'll excuse me, I'd like to be sure to say hello to our host."
You may also find Staying Productive at the Office During the Holiday Season helpful. Visit Diane's blog, connect with her here on The Huffington Post, follow her on Pinterest and Instagram and "like" The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook.