Saturday 20 October 2018

'Have you put on weight?' - How to dodge awful questions at the Christmas dinner table

For those trying to stop a Yuletide interrogation around the dinner table, Cristina Criddle has the expert tips on how to dodge those awkward questions...

For all those facing a Yuletide interrogation, we offer some tips on how to dodge the annual round of awkward questioning. Good luck
For all those facing a Yuletide interrogation, we offer some tips on how to dodge the annual round of awkward questioning. Good luck

Cristina Criddle

The tinsel is out, the tree is up and someone is tinkering with the fire. It's the most wonderful time of the year, supposedly.

But Christmas is also a time for seeing relatives and friends we don't usually have much contact with - and, as you'll soon remember, there's probably a reason why.

Whether it's a cocky cousin who asks how much you earn, despite knowing it's considerably less than them; the uncle who insists on bringing up that time you wet yourself during the school carol concert; the child who wants to know where the batteries are for their new toy, or the family friend (who keeps inviting them?) demanding to know why you haven't 'settled down yet'.

So for all those facing a Yuletide interrogation, we offer some tips on how to dodge the annual round of awkward questioning. Good luck.

The personal...

Have you put on weight?

This question usually comes moments after you've stuffed a mince pie into your mouth and are reaching for a second. But, instead of spitting out the remnants, Natalie Spearing, of recruitment consultants BPS World, says you should flip the situation.

"Never show an awkward question has upset or annoyed you. Give an explanation (even if it isn't true) and then deflect it with a question for them: 'No, but how is your weight-loss/exercise plan coming along?'

"Always put the question back to them, as people like talking about themselves more than they like listening to others."

The relationship questions...

'When are you going to get a boyfriend/girlfriend?'

Annette Earl is a qualified life coach and author of The Elephant in the Mirror. She says you've got three main ways to respond to this type of question. Take a deep breath and then, depending on who is asking, and your relationship to them, you can choose to:

Deflect: Have a ready-made mantra up your sleeve for just this occasion: "Simplicity is my word for 2018. I don't really want anything that would make life more complicated right now."

Disguise: Use a metaphor to widen the conversation and shift the focus: "I think life is like a cake and a relationship is just the icing on top. As soon as I find an icing I like, you can bet I'll want the whole cake."

Defy: If you're feeling particularly combative and just want to close the conversation down, answer one question with another: "Haven't decided, when are you going to ask me something unexpected and unpredictable?" Say it with a smile and follow it up with a genuine question - it will make it harder for them to bring the subject up again.

'Still not married you two?'

Just the question you need when you've already had to convince your other half to spend the day with your eccentric extended family.

Tam Johnston, life coach and founder of Fresh Insight Coaching, says you need to wrap the conversation up with conviction.

"You can answer with certainty and say 'we're very happy as we are and having lots of fun, no rush to get married at the moment' and that ends the conversation - say it with 100pc conviction.

"The most important thing is not to get into a 'digging war'. If you try to regain control of the situation by saying something to hurt the other person, you're being passive aggressive. If you really feel like you're being judged, disperse the judgement by helping them understand how it feels and what is going on from your perspective."

'About time you started a family, eh?'

"Before my husband and I got engaged we never got asked any of the awkward questions, but as soon as we said 'I do', it began," charity fundraiser Kerri Saxby says.

"I've always said the same thing, everyone has their own timeline and we got married so we could be married, not so we could have children.

"The best advice would be to remain calm, it might seem insensitive for people to ask what's next for you, but they probably have your best interests at heart and want to see you happy.

"Start talking about all the things you've achieved this year and your plans for 2018.

"Relatives and friends will see that you're perfectly content exactly as you are. Life is short, but it won't be rushed."

When your child asks...

'Why did I get this present?'

"The giving and receiving of presents cements family and social bonds," says Jo Wiltshire, parenting expert. "It's a physical, visual demonstration of a relationship.

"This all forms part of an important life lesson: teaching social niceties, manners, etiquette and thoughtfulness to your child and how to mask disappointment.

"One approach is the 'distraction' technique - quickly deflecting attention away from awkward questions.

"Luckily, children are easily distracted and simply asking if they are hungry or thirsty could buy you a bit of time to let your child calm down.

"Another approach is to focus on the good aspects. Is the jumper in their favourite colour, for example? Or is the game daddy's favourite and he cannot wait to play it with the child later on in the day? Try and focus on some positives with your child.

"Or try preparing your child before Christmas Day, explaining how it is polite to show thanks at all times, even if the present is not exactly what we wanted."

The work questions...

'Still in the same job? Jean's son is a GP now, you know'

Clayton John Ainger, motivational speaker, consultant and author of The Ego's Code, says you have no obligation to justify your job to anyone.

"Your job may not be as boast-worthy as others, but it is your contribution to society, and no less significant," he adds.

"Moreover, it is the journey you chose for yourself."

Explain that calmly and think about why the person is asking you this. Are they really trying to make you feel bad? Is it just a badly phrased conversation starter? Be objective and don't rise to the bait - you'll only feel worse for it.

'I got a €10k Christmas bonus, how about you?'

"There's not much to say here other than - ouch," Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library explains.

"You could talk about how you're rewarded for your performance all year round, so you're not bothered about a bonus. Alternatively, you could laugh it off, tell your cousin that you're expecting a really great present from them, and then sneak off for a cry in the corner."

'Why haven't you been promoted?'

"This can come as a bit of a blow, especially if you've been asking yourself the same question," Biggins says.

"Take a breath and tell the person that it's on your agenda for the year ahead; that should pacify the question."

'When are you going to get a 'real' job?'

"There are two ways to deal with this," Biggins suggests. "You could go with 'I do have a real job' and prepare for a long debate. Or if you aren't comfortable being so direct, you could try: 'Well, I'm doing what I love, and you know what they say - do what you love and the money will soon follow.'

"Either one should put the question to bed, leaving you free to enjoy your Christmas."

Irish Independent

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