Dinner Parties: Relearning social skills and how to be a good guest.

October 15, 2022

Tis the season to be social! Illustration of top-down table place settings

Holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving already came and went (how’d that go by the way?), but Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus…whichever ones you choose to celebrate, it’s fair to say there’s more on the horizon. One thing they all have in common: they each come with a sudden spike in socializing.

For most of us, these seasonal get-togethers come with a set of challenges to our social skills even in the best of times: So…what’s happened in the past 365 days since we last had this same conversation? And this year – emerging from Covid – they probably won’t be any easier: So…about that comment I saw you make on Facebook and happen to disagree with…

There’s a time and place to talk about the Covid elephant in the room, but there’s also lots of times and places where it’s probably not appropriate to get into it. Being mindful of when we choose to speak up is just as important as the words we use (a dinner party with a bunch of innocent bystanders might not be the best place to begin an impromptu public mediation session, for example).

Too often, disrespect and disparagement can infect the conversations we have with others. We’ve all been on the receiving end of it and, whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all been on the giving end of it too (maybe consciously, or in a quick retort). The thing about speaking is that there isn’t a simple undo button, and so it is in our best interest to be careful with our words.

Have you ever written an email, saved the draft, sat on it to cool down, and then ended up not sending it? Ah, if only all conversations had that option of restraint. With a little practice and self-awareness, it is possible to improve on our tone and delivery. Here are some universal guidelines that can help us get a little closer to our better selves in our day-to-day and holiday socializing alike.

Consider these questions before opening your mouth to speak:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it beneficial?
  4. Is it necessary?
  5. Is it the right time?

These questions are a way of looking deeply into whether what we want to say is necessary at this time and whether it will really serve. Is this the moment when our words are needed to turn a situation around for the better? Or might our feedback be received as bullying, disrespectful, or disempowering?

It is to our benefit to look at situations from a wider point of view. From here, we can then take responsibility for our part in the difficulties.

Illustration of a checklist of questions to go through before speaking

As much as we’d like our words to always be skillful, the reality is that the need for these questions is perennial; versions of them span from the moral foundations of religions around the world to sandwich boards reminding customers to be polite at the coffee shop down the street.

When we care about something deeply our emotions can get our tongues flapping before we take a moment to think. These touchstone questions are worth coming back to time and time again, so that we don’t experience the lingering taste of regret after a dinner party. In a sense, they are another good way for helping us to create space for wise action when reacting to what’s in front of us.

Speaking up is important, and doing so skillfully is an art we ought to embrace.

Let’s remember to stay grounded. Don’t take things personally. Don’t make assumptions. Maintain good internal and external boundaries. Make and keep clear agreements. Renegotiate agreements, if necessary. Keep things in perspective. And work with the following qualities: vulnerability, accountability, self-responsibility, trust, connectedness, and fearlessness.

While this is a lot to keep in mind, it’s also doubly important in this collective moment. A lingering effect of the pandemic is that our social muscles have atrophied, so be patient with yourself as you rebuild yours one rep at a time.

And of course, try to be patient with others. If they do come across as more blunt than you think polite…try to remember the last time that you unintentionally put your own foot in your mouth and give them the benefit of the doubt. We’re all in this together, and unnecessary fanning of the flames is not what we need right now.

Save the tough conversations for the right time. At Mediation Services, we can help you create a safe space for exactly that: fill out an intake form to request help from a third-party mediator in your family, workplace, or community conflicts.

Or, take it into your own hands with one of our online or in-person training sessions on conflict resolution.

Because sometimes it’s better to put your fork in your mouth than your foot.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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