How to Talk to Boring
Relatives at Dinner (cont.)

Ask Questions

The reason many people make boring conversation is not because they don’t have anything interesting to talk about, but because they don’t know how to talk about things in an interesting way. By asking questions, you can help them.

“If they say, ‘I went to Madrid,’ go deep. Ask them what they ate, what they bought,” says Murphy. The more detailed you can get them to be, the more you might illicit something colorful, racy, controversial, or funny. Or you might find you have something in common with them, and shared experiences create a feeling of closeness.

“I like to treat the evening as an educational opportunity,” says Solomon. “What is their field, and what can I learn from it?” If you’re dealing with a stay-at-home mom rather than a criminal defense attorney to the stars, this might be more challenging. But, says Solomon, you can ask them about summer camp, or neighborhood programs. And don’t forget to query the kids about school, or what books they’re reading. Their answers will be more unscripted, and it’s nice to make them feel they’re not invisible.

How about tough questions? Depends on your family. Solomon says she finds conversation becomes more “meaningful” if she poses political queries at the dinner table such as: “How did you feel about Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia?” But Murphy cautions that most people “don’t want to work that hard” when they’re at a dinner party. Zingers like “Why didn’t you love me as much as my dead brother?” are obviously a very bad idea in any case.

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