How to Have a Conversation on Thanksgiving

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November 27, 2019

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, you might be anticipating the social pressure that comes along with a big social event.  You might be planning to host a big gathering yourself, or you might be planning to attend a gathering with lots of other people.  Thanksgiving gatherings can feel especially awkward if you don’t know what to say.  And the one social skill we need to overcome the discomfort? Conversation! Conversation leads to connection, and connection leads to happiness and well being.  

Conversation is full of nuances and hidden social rules, and it changes depending on the context.  One of the most important aspects of conversations is asking good questions.  But where to start? It can feel uncomfortable when you feel like you don’t know the right questions to ask.  

Gail Heyman is a UC San Diego psychology professor and researcher who specialized in social cognition.  Heyman’s research shows that having good conversations can: increase well-being, strengthen relationships, and build trust.  When asked what makes a “good conversation,” Gail replied that she is interested “in conversations in which people gain new insights about each other, themselves, or the world.” Seeking to learn about others and understand others’ points of view is at the heart of good conversation.  

To learn more about Dr. Heyman’s research, check out UCSD News: We Can Improve the Way We Talk 

So we know that asking questions that build connections with others is the key to good conversation - but how do we actually get started?

The best type of question to start with in a conversation is an open ended question.  Open ended questions expand the conversation, where as close ended questions can shorten or end the conversation.  For example, if I say, “Do you like movies?”, the conversation partner can answer with one word - yes or no.  But if I ask a question like, “What types of movies do you like watching?”, this expands the conversation.  

From here, you can ask follow up questions.  Follow up questions show our conversation partner that we are listening to their answers, and would like to expand the conversation further.  For example, if the conversation partner answers “I really like watching comedies,” you can ask a follow up question like, “Have you seen that new movie (insert title of recent comedy) yet?”  Asking open-ended and follow up questions are a great first step in learning to build connection through conversation.

Need a little extra help? Check out Dr. Heyman’s new app: Beyond Small Talk

Beyond Small Talk has excellent conversation-starter questions to connect with the people in your life.  

Need some ideas for specific questions to ask at Thanksgiving? 

Check out these: 5 Open-Ended Questions to Start the Conversation at Thanksgiving:

  1. What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?
  2. What made you laugh the hardest this past year?
  3. What is one thing you would like to accomplish in the coming year?
  4. What three things always make you smile?
  5. What characteristic of someone at the table do your really admire?

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful opportunity to connect with friends, family, and coworkers, and the best way to connect with others is through conversation.  Starting conversations can feel awkward if you don’t know what to talk about, but asking open-ended and follow up questions is the perfect place to start.  

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