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

Say, “Yes, and …”

Good conversations are often revealing ones. But shy people may not like to get the third degree over their mashed potatoes. Brister recommends a less confrontational method of opening people up, while contributing flavor to the chat, from a technique used in improv. Somebody makes a comment, then you say, “Yes, and …,” and make a personal statement on the same topic. Example: Someone says, “It’s been so cold.” You say, “Yes, and it’s been great, because you get to wear all these sweaters that normally don’t come out until February.”

You’re agreeing with the reality your partner establishes, says Brister, but adding additional info to make that reality more specific. When he hears you say how you feel about something, he’ll take the cue that now he’s supposed to do the same thing and say how he feels about it.

Bring It Back Around

You can take an ordinary dinner-table conversation, or indeed any conversation, and make yourself and everybody else look good by using an advanced improv technique Brister calls “bridging.” The point is to establish a pattern in the dialogue by remembering something somebody said earlier and reintroducing it later in reference to the current topic. Here’s an example: Somebody says, “My trainer had me do 10 reps of lunges today at the gym.” Then somebody else says she has no time to work out. Then another adds that he hasn’t taken a vacation in 10 years. Then workout guy says he went to Asia last month, and turns out he walked a portion of the Great Wall of China. Here’s your cue. You say, “Those lunges must’ve come in handy!” [Appreciative laughter]

Although it might seem a little corny, finding connections like this has the astonishing effect, both onstage and off, says Brister, of making people feel clever and included. Not only are they in the presence of wit, but they, too, are smart for recognizing the pattern.

See more articles