Holidays tend to change the dynamics in the workplace, in families and even in the community. We are often surrounded by people we don’t know or seldom see. As we struggle to make our way through stores, parties and holiday events the stress in our life can increase significantly. Whether it is a celebration with colleagues, a holiday party with your professional connections or a family gathering, the pressure and demands surrounding these events can be stressful.
Before we even get to the event we are stressed out. What should I wear? Should I have a glass of wine or a cocktail? Which fork do I use? What do I say to the people I barely know? Do I mingle or stick with my crowd? Oh my gosh, should I even go!
Yes! You should go. Even if you stay for a brief time, go and enjoy yourself. It helps to remember that everyone there is asking themselves at least one of these questions. Chances are they are feeling their own doubts and insecurities. It happens to all of us, especially in unfamiliar high-stress situations. How can we cope and maybe even enjoy ourselves? There’s one tried and true hack.
But First, The Basics
Drink what you normally drink. If you rarely drink alcohol, now is not the time to start.
Unsure of what to do at the buffet or dinner? It usually works well to follow the example set by the host or CEO. If they are doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable, then follow your gut instinct.
Think before you speak.
Can’t think of anything to say? Ask an open-ended question to get the conversation rolling. Then, listen.
Try asking, “Why did you choose to join ABC Inc.?” Or, if you want to avoid work-related conversations, “What’s your favorite thing about this time of year?”
Ask upbeat questions with a positive focus. Avoid gossip or complaining. If you offer a compliment, make sure it is sincere. Be prepared to share your response to your question should they ask.
Look for ways to put people at ease, especially if you are a leader in the group. Remind yourself, in advance, of the positive contributions made by those attending. Thank and acknowledge them in front of their peers. Include a specific highlight, “Cari, you planned a great party! I appreciate your attention to detail. The festive name tags were a great idea!” is more meaningful than, “Great party, Cari.”
By focusing on others and listening, you leave them with a good feeling.
Get me out!
Stuck in a difficult or boring conversation? Time to move on?
Group conversations are easier with those you barely know. Try to facilitate or join a group. It’s easier to excuse yourself from a group with a murmured, “Please excuse me.”
If it’s a one-on-one conversation, find a breaking point and politely excuse yourself with a light, “I’ve enjoyed talking with you, time to mingle.” You could also end the conversation with, “It’s nice to visit with you. I’m sure our paths will cross again.” Is it someone you’ve heard of but never met? “It’s nice to put a face with the name. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you.”
The Secret Sauce
Frown or Smile?
Joy comes from within you. True happiness comes from how we feel inside. Whatever the event, try to walk in the door with a smile on your face—even if it’s forced or you don’t feel like smiling.
Research tells us that a simple smile not only changes our outlook, focus and demeanor, it changes the way others react to us. If you don’t believe me, have some fun and do your own experiment.
Try this experiment!
You will need a sheet of paper or journal and a pen. On your next shopping trip to the grocery store or mall, enter with a frown or perplexed look on your face. Take note of the people you pass. Count the number of people who smile at you and the number that frown back. Throw in a complaint here and there. Make notes on how your day goes. Literally write down the smiles versus frowns, the reactions of others towards you, the positive and negative things that happen. How do you feel after frowning and complaining?
Before you continue the second part of the experiment, pause and write down the things for which you are grateful. The beauty of the day. Having money to buy gifts. The great sales you discovered. Transportation to the store. The change you have to put in the Salvation Army bucket. Why we celebrate Christmas. Consider how great it is that you have this time to shop. You get the idea.
Now, enter the establishment. This time smile and really look at the people you pass. Are you counting smiles and frowns? How are people treating you? How are you feeling? If you can, pay for the purchase of the person in line behind you or give the clerk/salesperson a nice tip or gift card. Now, write your notes on how things went just like you did for the frowny day.
Do This One Thing to Reduce Stress!
The reactions you received during your experiment will be repeated when you walk into a party, family gathering or any group of people. If you smile, most people smile back. They mirror you. They pick up on the vibes you are sending—even if they have never met you.
A smile reduces stress immediately. It sends signals of joy to your brain and the rest of your body reacts in a positive way. A genuine smile actually draws people to you.
Typically, I’m not a fan of “fake it ‘til you make it.” However, there are exceptions and smiling when you don’t feel like it is one of them. Why?
First, you are igniting the joy-spark in your brain, telling it “Hey look out, things are going to get better.”
Second, as you probably discovered in your experiment, when you smile at someone they usually smile back. And they often do nice things like opening the door for you, offering to let you go before them in line or graciously picking up and returning something you drop—on more than one occasion I’ve witnessed money being returned to someone who didn’t realize they had dropped it.
All this means you are receiving smiles and positive interactions continuously which sends more signals to your brain reinforcing that spark you ignited. These repetitious signals tell you that things are continuing to get better.
Before you know it, you are having a great time. You may actually enjoy yourself.
So, put on a smile and walk through the door.
LaDonna Greiner is a motivational coach and speaker. She is a life-long student of gratitude and author of the book series, 21 Reasons to Say Thank You. Her books provide businesses and individuals with the tools and practical guidance needed to help them express gratitude and appreciation to others through handwritten notes and other activities. Learn more.