How to win people over this holiday season

With work parties and family events filling up your social calendar, find out how to make your conversations more comfortable.

A happy young woman laughing and talking to her friend over lunch

Make your friends—and everyone!—comfortable by joking about social missteps (Photo iStock).

I’ve made my fair share of social blunders in my lifetime, the recollection of which makes me shudder (even decades later). And it’s not just strangers, colleagues and friends that I’ve unintentionally offended. I’ve also made mistakes with family over the years. I’ve been self-absorbed when I should have been self-sacrificing. I’ve talked about myself and my own problems when I should have offered a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on.

Oh, for a time machine to go back and correct all those errors in judgment.

With the holidays and a new year on the horizon, I’ve vowed to clean up my social act. I’m going to try harder to be a better friend, relative and colleague, and to stop thinking so much about myself and more about how to make other people feel good.

However, I’m preoccupied with how to be less self-directed and more people savvy.

It starts with losing my ego — a suggestion I came across in a recent article that focused on learning how to win people over.

Stop being so defensive when you make an error or a misstep, restaurateur Danny Meyer says in the article. Rather than get your back up when you’re feeling silly, stupid or incompetent (if you’re like me you may be wondering when you’re not feeling this way), make a joke, or acknowledge your folly directly.

It’s a human moment that will endear you to other people. If it doesn’t, maybe they need to think more about how to become more people savvy too.

Another piece of advice that stood out was to throw a curveball in a conversation that’s gone off the rails. This happens to me frequently. I’ll be having an important conversation with a family member or co-worker and things start getting emotional — in all the wrong ways.

Rather than keep going down the thorny path, PR maven Alison Brod says do something unexpected. But not unexpected in a bad way, unexpected in a good way. Do something that you know will pique their interest. For example, if your distracted pal melts over kittens and puppies, show her the latest YouTube cute fest. The technique will lighten the mood and get the feel-good chemicals rolling again.

What do you do to make people comfortable during conversations? Tell us in the comment section below.