How to Have Great Conversations with Relatives You Rarely Meet

A complete guide to bonding over chats with relatives during the visiting season

By Elvira Tan | 20 January, 2017

If awkward silences unnerve you and facing dozens of relatives you rarely meet brings on cold sweat, then we’re in the same boat. None of my friends believe it when personality tests reveal that I am an introvert. My husband, however, knows that large family gatherings (such as those over the Lunar New Year) are often challenging for me, especially when I’m meeting extended family who I rarely meet.

Thankfully, over the years, I have discovered topics that almost always result in meaningful conversations and greater family bonding – and that trumps any inhibitions I might have as an introvert.

If you’re on the lookout for ideas to have both light-hearted and meaningful conversations with your relatives, here are some conversation starters which have never failed me.

For relatives with kids

  • What do you do on a typical weekend with the kids this past year? Where do you go?
  • Did you discover any new kid-friendly places of interest or restaurants?
  • Where did you vacation last year during the school holidays? What were the highlights/unforgettable experiences for you and your kids? Any recommendations/useful travel tips?
  • What are some new developments in the kids’ lives? Took on a new sport, new CCA, new friends? How have the kids been taking to all these new changes?

For relatives of all ages/marital status

  • What do you do for fun on weekends or after work?
  • Where have you vacationed in the past year?
  • Where is one place in the world you have always wanted to visit? Why?

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year? I’ve also found that you can never go wrong with the series of “Where do I find the best ____?” (Fill in the blank with anything you can think of!) This year, I’ve decided to ask relatives where I might find the best lobster rolls in Singapore. I recently had some on vacation and haven’t been able to get the gastronomical experience out of my mind!

For kids

  • Who are your good friends? What are they like?
  • What do you love doing most?
  • Where did you vacation last year? What were the best bits?
  • What do you hope to be in the future?

I love talking to my nephews and nieces - some of whom I meet once or twice year at most, as the whole family is based in other parts of the world. The younger ones often give me delightful insights into their lives. I once asked my 9-year-old nephew questions related to his passion – competitive swimming. In his own words, he had an “insane number of laps to complete” at each training. So I asked him what goes through his mind while he swam. I thought that he’d say that he would concentrate on his strokes or think about stuff but he actually sings in his head while doing laps – this coming from a boy who I’ve never heard sing out loud! I was delighted to learn something new about him that year and we went on to talk about the types of songs that he likes.

For the seniors

I know it sounds clichéd to ask elderly people about their health, but I’ve seen how grateful they are to be able to share some of their health concerns. While I’ve learned to stay upbeat and encouraging about the blessings I know they have, I also need to be careful not to brush off their fears lest I appear to be belittling their concerns and hurt their feelings in the process.

  • How has your health been? How has your appetite been? Able to sleep well?
  • What was your favourite past-time during the previous year?
  • What hobbies did you use to have in your younger days?
  • Do you still keep in touch with friends from your younger days? Tell me more about each of them?
  • Who have you lost contact with but wish to reconnect with and why?

We rarely run out of things to say when our conversations centre on food, travel and other leisure activities. They are pretty safe topics with low risk of conversations escalating into a fight (although I did witness a near argument between two relatives over where to find the best durian). Yes, no surprise – most Singaporeans are incredibly passionate about food. Ultimately, if we approach each conversation with a non-judgemental attitude and a willingness to share information that helps and/or affirms another, the conversations during a family gathering can be undeniably meaningful and enhance bonding.

Copyright © 2017. Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd.

 

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