The power of good conversation is that it can help release not only built up stress; but tension and anxiety, too. So today we’re going to give you a guide to taking dinner conversations beyond just table talk.
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Table talk: defined as an informal conversation at or as if at a dining room table. Also known as backchat, a gab-fest, tête-à-tête, patter, a schmooze, confabulation, chin-wag, chin music, gossip, jangle, and small talk.
We thank you England, for such a wholesome vocabulary— call it what you must, but table talk is probably limping across your dinner table these days. There’s really not a lot of gossip to spill if this is your 29th consecutive day of being painfully aware of every person in your households every breath. And, since dad is now on the riveting fifth telling of ‘that one time in Colorado springs’, we decided it was time to offer up alternatives for dinner time small talk. Sorry it took us so long.
Let's start by untangling some dinner time pitfalls that could keep you in the table talk realm. (If you're short on time, we've provided a summary at the end. We won't blame you if you skip ahead.)
Overcoming Dinner Table Obstacles: The Foundations
1. How To Properly Have A Stress-Reducing Conversation
Here’s a great reason for taking table talk off the dinner menu; it can quickly lead to ‘grievance-dumping.’ Example:
“Do you like the potatoes?”
“Yeah they’re great— hey why didn’t you tell me earlier we are out of almond milk? Now, I have to go to the store a second time and risk infecting the whole house, all because you couldn’t just write on the white board we are out of almond milk….”
“Hey Jess, I forgot to tell you we’re out of almond milk—"
So you see- while the dinner table seems like the perfect place and time to ‘grievance dump’, you probably shouldn’t. Unless you want to spend the next hour convincing 'Jess' her smoothies will taste fine with water. Which they won't, unless you're into that kind of thing.
When you have stressful conversations at the same place around the same time, it’s going to be smooshed together in your brain. Now the ‘dinner table’ equates to ‘arguments’. You’ll be pulling in a whole lot of negative atmosphere right before a meal: reality is very suggestible to our thoughts.
The cardinal rule in having a stress-reducing conversation is [when the conversation is]: only about stress outside of your relationship. – The Gottman Institute
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Try Establishing The Dinner Table As Scared Grounds.
Feeling some residual tension? Bring up your grievances before dinner, preferably during a 'time-out' or 'hash-it-out-session' where you've planned to talk it over with the other person(s) your cohabiting with.
If you need time alone to digest those conversations it will be so much easier to achieve that after a house meeting, rather than in the middle of dinner. It’s better to not have to slum it through the rest of a meal with a cold plate of suddenly bland chicken.
Releasing the flood gates before dinner means you have a chance to infuse good vibes during dinner to help move past it. See, it's not that difficult to move past the domestic obstacles of quarantine with ease.
Tip: House meetings should not happen at meal times. In fact you should go ahead and request one in the group chat, right now. Set a time to hash it out. Then set the intention for meal times that enriches your quarantine experience together.
Still need to vent some stress at dinner? You can, but instead talk about what you're finding stressful about the outside world. Like the 2020 elections or how you're worried about animal welfare. Just don't talk about the other person at the table.
The Gottman institute, says talking about these shared stressors can create bonds and relieve tension caused by the uncertainty of the outside world.
2. Move Past Table Talk By Actively Listening: 'How To Build On A Conversation.'
Don't dominate a conversation. Take the time to enjoy others perspectives. Has your child been talking your ear off? Do their stories seem to come out of nowhere? Still push yourself to actively listen. Enter their joyful inquisitive world.
Did you know (if you're a parent) dinner time conversation will provide your child with more vocabulary than story time? Also by actively listening you're encouraging your child to learn how to tell narrative stories, which will get them far in adult relationships. Because let's be real- learning how to successfully connect with people through conversations isn't always easy.
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Narrative stories include more than just facts, but reactions and feelings. Say hello to your kid making friends in college when you teach them conversation skills.
If you're cohabiting with adults or romantic partners, actively listen to what they're saying. Ask them questions that allow them to tell you their reactions and feelings to what the story they just told you (if they don't already offer it. It's endearing and it builds trust.
3. Ask questions.Don't be that person who only talks about themselves. Also, don't ask empty forced questions. Make them open ended and interesting. There's more on this below.
Plan Your Dinner Time Conversation: Challenge Your Idea Of Natural Conversation
1. Try Forming a Dinner Time Club
The perfect pairing for a great dish of lasagna isn’t wine- it’s conversation. We're in quarantine right now, so it means we can't rely on gossip to turn into silence filling banter. How about picking a book, podcast series, magazine, or movie. Then getting the whole household on board for discussion nights?
Using a book or 'other' to center your conversation around is a great way to have complex conversations at the dinner table. While intimately getting to know the mind of the person across from you.
We recommend the book: The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins
It's a thriller. You may just love it even if you don't love thrillers. Your dinner mates reactions to it are sure to get some excited chatter happening in between bites of warm bread and leafy greens.
Okay so we're going to slip this one in here, prettily craftily. If you are living alone. You can zoom a dinner date. Prop your laptop or cellphone eye-level, and dive right in. This can be a once a week thing where you talk about the latest Joe Rogan Podcast (or something more substantial.)
2. Ask your most ridiculous questions or your most probing ones.
Ask questions you generally want to hear the answers to. Or if you've been wanting to do deep work, you can check out this physiological study:
Question 29. Describes your mothers best friend.
You can let everyone know it's question night too. It doesn't have to be your sole responsibility to take the current limp conversation to 'we're enjoying each others company again'. Give everyone a day or two to prepare their questions and then roll the dice on who goes first.
Try setting some structure around it: whoever can ask the most intriguing question wins the biggest piece of cake or the last glass of wine. You don't need a whole list just one golden question and flow wherever that takes you.
Tip: If you don't get around to asking your question, that's okay in that regard everyone won. If one question can create a 40 minute conversation then mission accomplished. So don't get hung up on not having your turn and save it for next time. Only 1,333,551 dinners left to go, anyways ( Is the human life span even that long to begin with?) Now there's a question for you.
3. Take turns playing DJ
Here's one last idea. Have everyone craft their own Spotify list that pairs with dinner (that means they're cooking.) You guys can critique how the music is totally off or really setting the mood. Or you can just talk about the new artists you've been discovering. If your a house of music lovers and artists, this ones for you. Also, celebrity gossip is always a good last resort.
Okay so let's rehash: Here's how you can have more than table talk at the dinner table:
1. Have a house meeting anytime before dinner. Maybe even several hours before to have those 'clear the air conversations'.
2. Avoid pointing out what the other person did to agitate you during meal times.
3. Actively listen to the stories your housemates tell.
4. Ask questions that are open ended and you're actually curious to know. Not curious? You're not actively listening.
5. Don't dominate the conversation, but when you are talking make sure to give them something to respond to. Tell how you felt and your opinions. Be detailed and animated.
6. Add structure and planning to meal time. Try creating a dinner time 'club'.
7. Playing off the idea of a dinner time club: plan a Zoom dinner date. Discuss your latest read or listen. Ex. pick a new podcast series every week, that should give you enough free range.
8. Play dinner time games: like who can ask the most intriguing question.
9. Really get into planning dinner. Have everyone take turns cooking and crafting a matching playlist and be prepared to share the feels and critique.
~(But really- describe your moms best friend... that's bound to be insightful.)
---BCRX Content Writer, Klarrisa Arafa