Steve Kaye, Ph.D.

Article Summary:

Family parties require etiquette too. Here's how to enjoy a family party without offending your relatives.

Family Parties: Getting Along With Relatives (and Anyone Else)

The holidays are a special time. People gather for festive meals, wonderful parties, and memorable arguments. While two out of three may seem acceptable, arguments often ruin the entire event. Here's how to make any holiday memorable for the right reasons.

First, an Important Disclaimer:
Even though everyone who reads this article already knows all of the ideas in it, each of us must know dozens of people who could benefit from them. So, forward this article to all of your friends and family.

1) Leave Home Without It
Unless you visit like-minded people, leave your private cause at home. Since we tend to talk about the ideas in our mind, decide to concentrate on other things before the party. Read books or magazines to collect new ideas on general issues. Prepare for a party by making a list of general conversation topics that everyone will enjoy. As a last resort, you can always talk about the old standards such as the weather, your local sports teams, or trying to park at the mall. Avoid wearing pins, badges, or ribbons that commemorate specific causes because these will invite comments that could lead to an argument. Similarly, refrain from delivering editorials, lectures, or sermons, regardless how much anyone may seem to need hearing one. Remember: it's a holiday party. No one came to be fixed, changed, or converted.

2) Make Them Special
Let others talk. Encourage this by asking gentle guiding questions that invite others to talk about themselves. For example, ask others about their plans, their last vacation, or anything that you notice (e.g., "where did you get the new sofa?"). And then let them be the expert, regardless of how much you know. Let them be right, even if they seem to be hopelessly wrong. Be impressed (or at least interested) with what they say. While they talk, give your complete attention. Listen to understand and absorb everything that they say. Let them feel that their ideas are so special that they deserve every bit of your attention. Remember: Appreciation is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

3) Detach
Avoid taking anything personally. Just let others be themselves. If they tell corny jokes, laugh (or at least smile) at the jokes. If they tell old stories, show interest. If they offer advice, thank them. People do these things for themselves, so let it be. Then change the subject by asking a question about a neutral topic (e.g., "Where did you find that beautiful outfit?" or "What's happening at work?"). Accept what people say, regardless how outrageous it may sound. Just say, "Ah," while you bite your tongue (if necessary). Avoid correcting, criticizing, or complaining. Avoid telling a better story. If someone says something stupid, just let it go. The other person probably regrets having said it. Ignore bait that lures you into saying something foolish. If someone tempts you with a sensitive topic, just laugh and say, "How interesting. Excuse me, I need a drink of water," Remember: People respect those who manage themselves.

4) Talk Friendly
Offer compliments. Praise everything and anything, such as people's clothes, cooking, shoes, pets, new toaster, front yard, holiday decorations, carpet, mail box, door mat, children, books, walls, ceilings, lamps - - anything. Find diplomatic ways to express your ideas. Use gentle, neutral words. Avoid sarcasm, satire, and criticism. Avoid negative words, especially "not," because negative ideas trigger a defensive response. Talk about what is happening and what you want to happen. Remember: People are attracted to warmth.

5) Behave
Be kind to everyone. Avoid baiting people into arguments. That is, avoid making comments on sensitive issues, news events, or topics that prompt retaliation. Avoid veiled insults (e.g., "Only poor people would buy a sofa like that"), trick questions (e.g., "Just what kind of idiot would buy such a sofa?"), unfair exaggerations (e.g., "We could have bought a dozen sofas like that."), and any type of direct insult (e.g., "You're a fool for buying that sofa."). Avoid punitive stories that contain insults or describe other people's failings. In general, set an example for how you want everyone else to behave at the party. Remember: It is always a bad idea to start an argument.

Steve Kaye, author and IAF Certified Professional Facilitator, helps leaders hold effective meetings. His facilitation produces results that people will support, and his innovative workshops have informed people nationwide. Call 714-528-1300 or visit his web site for over 130 pages of valuable ideas. Sign up for a free newsletter at

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