As we emerge from the pandemic, hosting and attending parties is even harder than before.
Gathering together is essential for our mental and emotional health. We are social beings, yes, even introverts! Gathering together provides a sense of belonging and social connectedness, which is important for our mood and energy levels. Whether we are the host or the guest this holiday season, building community is vital.
As we enter the month of December, our holiday calendars are beginning to fill up with work parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and family dinners. And we shouldn’t rely on the party’s host to do all the work. As guests, we can help set the stage and make others feel more at ease.
Some people are just now emerging into the world more comfortably. They are eating at restaurants again, going to indoor classes, and gathering with people outside the family and friends they have previously deemed “safe.” Their reasons for -why now- vary greatly, but honestly, the reasons aren’t necessary. Everyone has to move at their own pace. And as a society, in general, we need to be more empathic. So let’s dig deep to accept that some people need additional time to feel more at ease, whether post-pandemic or at a holiday party. And that’s okay!
Even if you tend to lean towards social anxiety, claim to be an introvert, or feel shy in social situations, there are ways that you can help to create a community without having to exert a lot of effort. For example, a small gesture like offering a smile to a person you notice who may feel the same way as you do goes a long way!
I like to rehearse questions I could ask people before going to the gathering. I bore of the “what do you do for work” type of conversations. I live in the Washington DC area; it seems like everyone is a contractor for the government or works for a non-profit and speaks in acronyms that I don’t understand.
When people aren’t talking about their work, they sometimes talk at great length about how amazing their kids are, another topic I find exhausting to listen to or pretend excitement about. It’s also an isolating topic for adults who don’t have children. Unfortunately, when people are at a loss on what to talk about, more times than I’d like to count, they will begin to complain about something, the weather, traffic, or God-forbid politics.
During the “what do you do for work” conversations, I have noticed that people’s physicality changes. They armor up, their arms cross over their chest, and their chin lifts; the voice becomes deeper, louder, or suddenly the tempo of their speech pattern becomes faster. The way the person talks about their job with this physicality shift is to make what they do sound impressive or important. But it doesn’t promote connectedness.
Instead, we are all posturing and trying to impress each other but doing this creates the opposite outcome we want to achieve. We need to do the reverse of armoring up. Instead, we need to peel back the layers a bit. That doesn’t mean the holiday party becomes a therapy session! But it does mean that we need to be more intentional about our conversations so that we can truly get to know the person better. You or I are not summed up by our jobs or the achievements of our children.
To avoid uncomfortable moments of silence with strangers, I like to come up with questions that move beyond work, or how awesome your kid is, or complaining conversations to dive deeper into getting to know the person. Questions that don’t make me or them feel like we have to pretend to be someone other than who we are. I’ve found that these starter questions level the playing field, so to speak, regardless of social economic factors.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Have you picked up any new hobbies?
- Have you always lived in this area?
- How do you know (the host)?
- What is your favorite place to visit?
- What is bringing you joy this week?
- What is your favorite holiday?
- Most memorable vacation- go!
At my yoga studio, students who are regulars become accustomed to my somewhat random questions to get conversations started before class begins. Or my observations about duplicate names in the room or when people arrive wearing the same clothes color. In this picture, these two women arrived at class wearing the same shirt, and I exclaimed, “we have to take a picture on the bee wall- ya’ll match!” They both laughed and happily agreed. The best part of this moment was afterward when they introduced themselves to each other. You’d never know by the smiles on their faces that they are complete strangers!
Moments like these happen because I take the time to create community; it’s not about me or any of the instructors at the studio. It’s about the people who are here and sharing space. And the same holds true for your holiday party. It’s not about the house size, food, or decor. It’s how you make people feel who come into your home or sit next to you at the restaurant where the holiday gathering is taking place. Whether the host or the guest, we can do our part to create community by being intentional with our goal of getting to know the person we are experiencing in real life. We don’t need to commit to having a forever relationship with them, but we can make the most of the next hour together!