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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette:  Successful Simple Icebreakers

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


There are no secret etiquette tips to being a good guest. There were lots of questions this week concerning holiday parties, and that is a question that comes up again and again at Didi's Manners.

Q. I freeze at the thought of having to attend holiday parties, but I know it is good for me to get out and about. I’m excruciatingly shy. To loosen up and become friendly I need a couple of glasses of wine. At least two. Can you give me some tips on how I can be less shy and socialize more easily at a party without having to get high first in order to make conversation?  –AW, East Greenwich, RI

A. Ahead of time, before you know you’re going to be socializing, whether you’ll be meeting people you don’t know or getting to know an acquaintance better, watch the Amy Cuddy ‘Power Pose’ TED talk  to see how to improve your body language to be more approachable. It will prepare you to enter any social situation with aplomb.

Remember in a social situation such as a holiday party, you want to think of yourself as the hunter not the prey. You are the person doing the shopping, you’re not the shopee; you’re looking to meet people interesting to know, which means you’ll be asking a lot of questions.

  • Start by saying something positive to a person of interest about the party, host, music, or food. Then introduce yourself: This is cool space for a party. By the way, I’m Zoe Brown. As you offer to shake his hand while he introduces himself as Earl Grey. Repeating his name and yours helps you both learn the other's name.
  • Carry on with inquisitive open-ended questions: Is Earl Grey your name for real or are you putting me on? Earl Grey is my favorite tea. How did you come to be named after a tea?
  • It is far easier for a person to respond when you’ve offered parallel information that Earl Grey is your favorite tea flavor and then ask how they came to be named Earl Grey. Were you born in India? I’m going to India next Fall. His answer gets him talking about his world. This exchange, of course, isn't a real one, but it should give you an idea of how to keep a conversation going.
  • Everyone wants to be appreciated. So, ask a favor: Will you walk with me to the bar to get a drink? (Or, Let’s find something to eat in the other room?) The favor draws him into spending more time with you.
  • Be curious and ask more questions: How do you know our host, Tom? His answer may provide a conversational opening.
  • If not, make a broad statement: This California wine is quite excellent. Making such a declaration will encourage him to respond with his opinions about wines.

On the other hand, when bumping into someone you know:
Don’t ever use annoying trite cliches:

  • You look great for your age. –Instead simply say: You look great.
  • You look tired. –Instead say: What have you been up to?
  • You’ve lost weight.  –Translated loosely, referencing your body size – even if it is flattering – is a turn-off. Instead say: You look great.
  • When is your baby due? --Unless you know for sure that she’s pregnant, don’t assume that because she has gained weight that she is in fact pregnant. Don't even go there.
  • Have you found a job yet? –Simply say: What’s going on in your life?
  • How is your illness?  –Merely ask: How are you doing?
  • Are you divorced yet?  –Again, don't even go there.


Steer clear of two words: always and never. Because nobody always or never does it all the time. Rather, instead say: I notice you do this often.

What’s not cool to say:

*You always forget my name. –If he always forgets your name, simply introduce yourself to help him learn it.

*You were always too good for him anyway. –Instead say: It's his loss

*You never remember that we’ve met several times before. –Simply introduce yourself again and again until it sticks.

*There is always a reason for everything. –When you know someone close to the person died, simply say: I’m so sorry for your loss.

Stay cool when you’re ‘breaking the ice’ and concentrate on being:

*Optimistic and open-minded

*Curious about the other person

*Interested in learning something new

*Fun to be with

Didi Lorillard researchers all matters of manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners. This is where the best questions appear weekly.


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