For most people the art of conversation comes naturally, yet we can all experience some difficulty from time to time. Especially if we are thrown into the company of complete strangers, or with people who are very different from ourselves, or who hold different values to the ones that we hold.
On this page I am going to touch on a few ideas that I hope will help you feel relaxed, confident and excited about meeting new and interesting people at your dinner party, along with some do's and don'ts!
Become a good listener. Take the time to truly listen to what the other person is actually saying to you.
Maintaining an appropriate amount of eye and facial contact is important as many of the things said in conversation are relayed through facial expression and body language. This also lets the person talking to you know that you are genuinely interested in them. Don't stare, just keep it natural.
There is nothing more annoying than talking to someone and then noticing that they are continually looking over your shoulder or around the room too much.
On a subconscious level this screams "I'm not interested in you, or what you have got to say".
Believe me, they will notice. So do them the courtesy of paying attention and don't be one of those people who, parrot like, think having a conversation just means waiting for your turn to speak!
Adopt a friendly manner. Smile naturally when you first engage in conversation and always be polite and courteous.
I always find it a good idea to try and listen twice as much as I talk. Don't dominate conversations or talk talk talk like a parrot!
Look out for subjects that interest the other person you are talking with. Try and enquire about these subjects a little more as they arise, this helps keep the conversation going and shows you are interested in the other person.
They will probably do the same with you, so try to be as open and honest about yourself as you can and not closed off towards them.
Try and keep things light hearted and fairly short in nature if possible. Avoid controversial subjects such as religion, divorce, strong politics, abortion, or sexuality etc, but at the same time do share your honest opinion about things as much as possible.
Whatever you end up talking about, refuse to be drawn into arguing with anyone. At the end of the day it's not worth getting worked up about just because you strongly disagree with someone else's opinion!.
Decide beforehand that you will refuse to be drawn into any arguments. Just point blank refuse to argue! After all, just ask yourself, does it really matter if someone holds an opinion you don't like? The answer to that is "no" not really.
So just relax and let it go! Maybe change the subject or start to talk to someone else instead. It's not worth getting upset about it and ruining your evening.
If you have gone to the dinner party or party with a partner or friend, ensure you don't desert them, or spend all your time with them either.
Try and mingle or talk amongst the other guests from time to time while still including your friend or partner.
One thing to bear in mind, is what I call one of "life's basic rules" and that is; People tend to like people who like them.
So decide to be positive in the way you think about and react to other people, even those who you maybe don't naturally take to or identify with.
Try not to be judgemental in any way, but accepting of other people, their opinions and lifestyle, even if very different from your own.
If you can genuinely make other people feel good about themselves, they are are more likely to feel comfortable in your company and relaxed with you. So just chill, go with the flow and enjoy yourself.
If you have any personal problems (let's face it we all do from time to time) decide to leave them at home.
Don't bring your problems to the dinner party, they will still be there waiting for you when you go home, so put them on ice for the evening.
Also refrain from inappropriate bad jokes, bad language or rude behaviour, even if someone else oversteps the mark with the way they act or speak. This usually happens when someone has had a bit too much to drink. So make sure that someone isn't you!
Don't dominate conversations. Give others the opportunity to express themselves. Try not to interrupt, but do contribute fully to the general conversation around the table. It's really a balancing act of give and take.
There's nothing worse than someone who doesn't say anything all night and has to have conversation dragged out of them, so don't let that be you! Just be relaxed, open and honest and willing to participate and share.
Starting off a conversation isn't difficult. You could for instance compliment the other person on something you genuinely like about them. This could be something they are wearing or their accent or any thing that you notice about them that you like.
Or you could say how much you enjoyed the food, or how nice a home you think the host has. Or how much effort the host has put into the dinner party. Anything to get small talk going.
It's O.K. to ask what they do for a living, but don't go into too much detail about your work as it can get a little boring. Keep it light hearted and don't take yourself too seriously and all should go well!.
Ending a conversation or breaking away from someone is easy. After all you don't want to spend the whole evening just talking to the same person.
End things with something like "It was nice to have met you", or "It's been good talking to you, maybe I'll see you later on, have a good evening".
If you are seated at the dinner table try and include as many people in conversation as a group rather then just one.
If you just can't hit it off with someone, or things just dry up you will need to be able to excuse yourself somehow. You are going to need a particular reason to do this, so you need to find one or make one up.
You could say that you are going to get another drink or that you had promised to say hello to such and such a person. But whatever excuse you go for remember to always be polite and friendly.
If you are stuck at the dinner table and, regardless of your best attempts at conversation things dry up completely, one idea is to simply try and engage as many people as possible in conversation. You could join in with someone else's conversation. But don't ignore someone just because you find them hard work or a little awkward to converse with.
This is an important one! What do you do if you have accidentally upset someone by saying something totally inappropriate by mistake?
Let face it, we have all done it at sometime or another and will more than likely do it again!
I personally have had some really, really bad foot in mouth experiences over the years, that still cause me to cringe when I think of them even years later.
So how do you minimise the damage, overcome the embarrassment, and escape the horror of your blunder before the ground opens up and swallows you whole?
For a really serious gaff that scores 11 out of 10 on the "Oh my God, did I really just say that" scale, there is only one answer and that is to grovel!
Unfortunately, If you said it, you have to take ownership of it. So, apologise prefusely, then grovel and grovel some more.
Then don't hang around. Get as far away from them as fast as you can. If you can't because you are seated next to them at the table, get up and make as if you are going to the toilet, any excuse will do, just get away from them fast.
Next, try and have a discreet word with your host, partner or friend to see if they will please swap places with you while you "go to the toilet".
If you can't achieve this with out any fuss, you need to decide whether or not you should just leave.
This would only apply if the something you said or did was really, really bad. You will probably never ever find yourself in this situation, but if you do, it would be appropriate to apologise again in writing.
If you do decide to write do not backtrack or make excuses in any way because that will make things even worse!
For the more usual and not so serious mistake or bringing up an inappropriate subject, or saying the wrong thing. Just say "sorry! I should know better than to say that, what do I know anyway!" and then change the subject.
Again don't attempt to backtrack or make excuses, you'll just dig a hole for yourself, change the subject and move on.
Remember you are not unique. Everyone makes mistakes. So don't beat yourself up and don't take yourself too seriously.
Try not to get stressed out about what you think other people are thinking about you.
In reality, you don't know what other people are thinking, other than the fact that other people are probably more concerned about what everyone else thinks about them to worry about you.
At the end of the day, most people are more concerned about their own insecurities to pay any attention to any that you and other people may or may not have. So, relax join in the fun and have a great time!