In "Want to Seem More Likable? Try This," New York Times writer Tim Herrera reminds readers that we are often our own worst critic and we tend to think that people like us less than they actually do. He says that if you want to seem more likable and like a great conversationalist the key is asking questions. Asking questions allows you to be more interesting to your conversation partners by showing your interest in them. The goal is to ask questions, especially what and why questions, to lead people to reveal about themselves.
So if you want to avoid just chit chatting but don't want to delve into potentially controversial topics, I recommend using some of these questions to provoke thoughtful conversation with your family members this holiday season.
1. What’s your favorite holiday and why is it your favorite?
2. What holiday traditions did you have when you were a kid?
3. Where is our family originally from? What ethnic traditions do you remember being part of the holidays?
4. What’s your favorite family tradition?
5. What’s your favorite holiday memory?
6. What’s your earliest holiday memory? Why do you think it sticks out to you?
7. What’s your favorite memory of a family gathering?
8. What’s one of your happiest memories?
9. What are your favorite stories about [insert family member]?
10. What were some of the most important things to your family?
11. What was a typical family dinner like for you growing up?
12. What’s your favorite holiday dish?
13. What is/was the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
14. Have any recipes been passed down to you from family members?
15. Are there any special heirlooms or other memorabilia passed down in our family? What’s the story behind them?
16. What’s your favorite gift that you have ever received?
17. What’s the favorite gift that you have ever given?
18. What’s your favorite thing about being a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle?
19. What’s the hardest part about being a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle?
20. What do you think is the most important life skill or value your parents taught you?
21. If you could thank a person (living or dead) for their influence on your life, who would you thank?
22. What family member or friend do you wish was with us today?
23. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned this year?
24.What random acts of kindness have you received or given this year?
25. What is an opportunity you had that you are grateful for this year?
26. What is one way you’ve used your talents to serve others this past year?
27. What do you consider to be one of your greatest accomplishments this year and why?
28. What are you thankful for?
(This last one may be expected, but it's a classic and can lead to a meaningful conversation if you and your conversation partner(s) are willing to thoroughly discuss it.)
This list is by no means comprehensive, and I challenge you to adapt these questions and to create your own. Ask follow-up questions to clarify and go deeper on a topic. Playing favorites or asking about what is someone's favorite or least favorite is a great way to learn more about them and to even spark some friendly competition with the rest of the fam arguing in favor of or against those answers. The secret is curiosity: What do you want to know about or even more about your family members? Keeping this in mind will help you to learn more about your family and to have more meaningful conversations with them this holiday season.