My fervent plea: Talk to me

Contrary to any impression you may have of me because of this blog, I'm not a talker. Plop me in a room of family, friends or strangers and I'm usually one of the more quiet in the crowd.

My extended family is full of talkers, so I learned from an early age that my role in a successful conversation is that of listener. I just get out of the way and let the natural talkers do the talking. It usually works quite well.

But I'm often confronted with situations where initiating the conversation -- or guiding it -- is up to me. Not being a natural-born conversationalist, I'm always on the lookout for tricks for opening folks up. People generally like to talk about themselves, so I need only tap the keg of conversation, then pump it now and then with leading questions to keep things flowing.

As a writer, I've had to do hundreds and hundreds (maybe even thousands) of interviews. The keys to a successful interview, I've learned: Do not ask any questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," and keep your mouth shut when the subject takes a while to come up with a response because sometimes the best quotes come when a person is trying to fill that awkward silence.

As a mother, getting the girls to talk hasn't been as easy. And it's more crucial. If I conduct a bad interview, I end up with a crappy article. But if I have bad -- or no -- conversations with my girls, I end up with a crappy relationship. Luckily I've had more time to tweak the conversation-starting technique with them than I have with interviewees.

Out of necessity, I've accumulated a pretty good bag of conversation-starting tricks, if I say so myself.

I recently wrote here about my use of puzzles and blank books to get conversations rolling with my daughters.

Another of my tools is something called Tabletalkers. They're nifty little coaster-size discs with thought-provoking questions such as (from my Thanksgiving version), "If you could change the location where you are spending Thanksgiving this year, where would it be and who would you spend it with?"

(Of course, there are also some subliminal-message Tabletalker questions that I love to throw out there, such as the one that reads "When you host a Thanksgiving dinner, at the end of the day do you prefer to have people help clean up or just go home?")

I have the Christmas version, too.

But my favorite holiday conversation starter is a book called, fittingly, The Christmas Conversation Piece. That's a picture of it, up there at the beginning of this post.

I came across this book after the smashing success I found with a similar book called "If ... (Questions for The Game of Life)". We loved the "If" book, spending many hours poring over the questions, killing time finding out about one another. (And that was just me and Jim!) The girls enjoyed it, too, especially Andrea. When she was in the beginning stages of "talking" with (ie, "going with" or something like that) a boy, this non-talker (she's so much like her mom, it's scary) needed something to talk about during long phone conversations that were short on conversation. She used the "If" book to get things rolling with her beau ... and often found they weren't worthy of her time, just by some of the answers she got from them.

Because we loved the "If" book, buying the Christmas version was a no-brainer. We all spent many hours volleying holiday-related questions and answers.

Now, I've decided, I'll share the fun with my readers. Beginning today and running through the holiday season, I'll pose a question from the book for all my readers, at the end of each post. Comment, if you want, or ponder in private, if you prefer. Either way, I think it's a pretty cool way of getting everyone in the Christmas spirit -- and maybe learning a bit more about one another along the way.

So here goes:

Today's question from "The Christmas Conversation Piece" is:

Which of the following, if it were completely and permanently removed from the holiday season, would be the most difficult for you to get along without -- Christmas lights, Christmas music, or Christmas parties? Why?

My answer: Parties! Because they involve a lot of talking.

(Not too surprising, I guess, for a kinda, sorta wallflower!)