Sometimes we spend time with family members we don't know very well or who might be hard to relate to. You could be at a family gathering and find yourself around cousins, aunts, uncles, or even grandparents that you haven't seen for a while. You aren't alone, it can be tough to have an enjoyable and comfortable conversation with someone who you don't spend much time with.
Often these conversations can sound like this:
“Hi, how are you doing?"
“Good, it's good to see you."
And then the conversation is pretty much over. The short conversation didn't really help to get to know the person or build the relationship. It just felt kind of awkward.
Next time try preparing for the situation ahead of time. To start a conversation, consider asking them some general questions about what is going on in their life. Think of follow up questions or things to share that can build on that conversation. Having a conversation starter in mind ahead of time helps so you don't have to scramble for something to say in the moment.
Try these simple conversation starters to reduce the awkwardness:
- How have you been spending your time lately?
- Listen to what they tell you and be ready to tell them what you have been doing.
- Have you taken any recent trips? Or do you have any trips planned?
- Listen and then share about a recent, upcoming, or favorite trip yourself.
- How is your job?
- You could then ask some follow up questions: Where do you work? How long have you worked there? What is the best/worst part of your job?
- How is _______ (another family member, or friend) doing?
- It may be easier for them to talk about someone else rather themselves.
Once you have broken the ice, there are other questions you can ask to keep the conversation going. Remember that older adults often like to share stories about their past. If you aren't sure where to start, here is a list of 10 questions you could ask when you have time to for a longer visit with someone:
- Can you tell me something surprising that I might not know about you?
- If your life had a rewind button, is there anything that you would do differently?
- What were your favorite subjects in school? Were you a good student? Did you ever get in trouble in school as a kid?
- Where have you all lived? If you could live any place else, where would it be?
- Who is the one person that has had the biggest impact on your life?
- What is your favorite time of year?
- If you were stranded on an island, what 3 things would you want to have with you?
- What's the best gift that someone has ever given to you? Why?
- What's your all-time favorite meal? Why is it special to you?
- What are 3 things you are thankful for?
These are just a few examples. You might be able to think of other questions that you are more comfortable with. What's important is that all the questions in the list share a few common characteristics:
- They are open ended questions.
- They aren't directed towards tough or controversial topics.
- They show interest in the other person and their life.
It is okay if some of these conversations still feel a little awkward, that's totally normal. The more you have these conversations, the more comfortable it will get. And who knows, you just might start to enjoy those family gatherings!