While the holidays have many positives, it is essential to remember that not everyone is having a “holly, jolly” time. I can already hear the question coming from my aunt, “So when do you think you’ll have kids?” Gosh, Aunt Karen, can we get through the engagement and wedding before we have 10 kids?

Many people are anxious around the holidays for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps, your uncle received a subscription to the jelly of the month club instead of a holiday bonus or maybe one cousin just got out of a toxic relationship. While it is commonplace to ask about these topics, take a second to think about what and how you say things this year.

Remember that horrible breakup you went through in college or the job offer you didn’t get? Would you want to be repeatedly asked about it at your holiday party? Probably, not, so why would anyone else?

So what can you do to avoid this?

  1. Talk to other family members and friends and get a sense of what is happening in others’ lives.
  2. Check social media. Have they posted with their significant other in a while? If not, don’t ask about them. Simple as that.
  3. Religion. Politics. Just don’t. Stay away from topics that make others uncomfortable.
  4. Be understanding. Recognize that not everyone is in the best place.

If anything, give people the gift of grace this holiday season. Realize we are all works in progress. If you are unsure what to say to someone, there are some suggestions below to help get you started!

  • What’s going on in your life? What’s new? (Give someone the opportunity to tell you what they want to reveal about their lives as opposed to directly asking them about a specific topic.)
  • What’s the funniest thing you’ve read online recently?
  • What’s the most interesting movie/tv show/book you’ve invested time in this year?
  • What was your favorite song/album of the year?
  • Did you go on any fun trips this year, or are you planning to next year?
  • If you did not live where you live now, and you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose to live?
  • What would it be if you could do any job in the world and pay was not a factor?
  • How are you? (How often do we take the time to ask one another how they are doing? Less often than we should.)

These questions are simple, and they’re not all super deep. However, sometimes it’s nice to have a light conversation with someone especially if they are struggling. The gift of laughter is sometimes the best thing you can provide. The extra effort to respect someone’s boundaries never goes under-appreciated and reminds us of each other’s value.

Whatever you do, pay attention to how those behave around you. If a person’s body language and voice inflection tell you they are uncomfortable, then they are most likely uncomfortable. Try not to be “the creepy Uncle Steve” and make a joke that you know people will find offensive. It’s funny how one, small word like respect can have such an enormous impact, don’t you think?