Party Conversation Do’s and Don’ts

The art of good conversation decoded with tips on what to say — and not to say — at your next social gathering.

By: Allison Beck,

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” — Dorothy Nevill, British author.

Think back to the gatherings where you have had the most fun. Has it been the food? The music? Or the company — and the conversation? As a guest, the most enjoyable parties are often the ones where the conversation flows easily and never seems to cease all evening long. But, for many, knowing what to say or not to say — and when — does not come naturally. “Sharing a meal with friends or family is supposed to be a pleasant experience,” says Jay Remer, a consultant and expert at The Etiquette Guy. When the conversation turns sour or gets heated, it’s sure to upset some guests — literally leaving some with a sour taste in their mouth (or a lump in their throat). Why? When you eat, there are delicate chemical reactions taking place that you don’t want to disrupt. According to Remer, “if you’re agitated, you won’t properly digest your meal and will feel miserable.”

Whether you’re having a group of friends who you haven’t seen in months over for dinner, attending the family reunion, or attending a cocktail party in a new town where you’ll know practically no one, don’t be the one to walk away from the evening regretting you opened your mouth — read our do’s and don’ts first.


To Do:

1. Listen
Everyone can talk about themselves — but staying silent and listening can be a challenge. How many times have you been stuck next to a person who talks incessantly or interrupts you with incorrect statements? Or worse, always seems to tune you out? According to Remer, a good conversation at a gathering shouldn’t be about you but the other person. By listening, you’re showing respect — and it gives you the chance to learn something new about the other person. So make eye contact and show the other person you’re listening (even if you’re not) with occasional nods or mmms of agreement.

2. Ask Thoughtful Questions
Especially when you’re in a setting where you don’t know anyone, having a couple of planned questions to ask will make the social experience easier. Unless you’re desperate for an icebreaker, forget about asking your neighbor how the weather was (Remer considers the query a crutch for conversation newbies). Bringing up personal matters, health issues, and controversial topics like religion and politics are equally off limits. Remer suggests looking to find out what interests the other person or what they do in their spare time. “Your goal at a gathering should be to walk away knowing one new thing about your fellow guests that you didn’t already know.”

3. Think Before You Speak
We live in a fast-paced world where sometimes action comes before thought, often resulting in someone making a fool out of themselves at the dinner table. Next time you’re about to comment at a dinner party, take a moment to think about what you’re going to say before you open your mouth. Don’t talk about things you’re not familiar with and avoid sharing your opinion, especially when there is a right or wrong answer, if it will only escalate the argument. After all, you don’t want your question or comment to come off sounding as an insult.


Not to Do:

1. Don’t Pick Arguments
The meal is supposed to be enjoyable, so whether you’re disagreeing with your sibling or simply want to make your friend know her previous statement is incorrect, let it go. Push your ego aside and forget about being right — arguing will only bring negative energy to the room. You don’t want to be the person to ruin everyone’s night, do you?

2. Don’t Hold Exclusive Conversations
A party, by nature, is a social event and gives people a chance to meet other individuals they might not otherwise have a chance to meet. So by engaging an old friend in a lengthy, exclusive conversation all night, you’re not only missing out on a chance to find new friends you might share an interest with, but it is also insulting to your fellow guests. So save that secret gossip for when the party is over.

3. Don’t Complain
Many of us are guilty of this crime. According to Remer, “complaining makes people feel better about themselves,” says Remer. Even if you are tired, frustrated with work, or are upset about something at home, you don’t need to dump your baggage on your fellow guests. And as we said above, an engaging conversation isn’t about you but the other person.

Click here for more tips on creating engaging conversations at gatherings and parties.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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