Holiday Fun – Hold the Drama

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You Better Watch Out
(c) Santacon 2014

Last week, a dozen Santas full of Christmas “cheer” cruised down my street on skateboards shouting about elves! By this time of year in Portland, several Santacons have already taken place and the Christmas ships are about to finish their run. I guess you could say we love a holiday spectacle.

As many of us approach holiday visits, which can be spectacles in their own right, I am reminded of a friend who recently said she doesn’t go home for the holidays because “I like my family too much and want to keep it that way.” Somewhere deep down inside, she had this sense that going home for the holidays could be dangerous. Not just because they pack the turkey stuffing so hard into the bird that you need a small jackhammer to get it out – although that is concerning. It’s mainly the close quarters and conversation. Yes, the c word.  No, the other c-word: CONVERSATION. If you spend time with your family over the holidays, you know what I’m talking about. We love them and they tend to drive us nuts. It’s fun and yet after about 3 hours, it can lead to “give me another eggnog, stat!”

So what if there was a simple way to make it easier? Okay, so I’m not Santa but I’ve been using a technique with groups for a while now that seems pretty magical. It involves asking questions. We use open-ended questions, in a specific order, to help walk people through a conversation using the pattern our brains use to process information. It’s called the Focused Conversation Method and it’s great for helping groups reach decisions – easily. Let’s face it, most people are willing to answer questions – they just don’t like being told what to do.

Here’s an example to use when trying to get the family to decide on where to go for dinner. 

  1. Observational question(s): What are some restaurants that have opened in the area in the last year? Try to get everyone in the group to answer this first question to encourage participation and help everyone to feel heard. After that, you don’t need everyone to answer but do pay attention if it seems someone is being really quiet and help draw them out.
  2. Reflective question(s): What have you heard about these restaurants or what has your experience been with them? What do you like about them/it? What’s not so great about them?
  3. Interpretive questions(s): What place can best handle groups of 10 (or gluten free, kids, etc.)? What recommendations do you have?
  4. Decisional questions(s):  Ok, so what have we just decided?  What are the next steps we need to take?

As you use this, just remember, you may have to tailor the questions a bit based on their answers.In most cases, this approach allows for consensus to emerge naturally without hard feelings. It may not keep a dozen drunk Santas away from your door but it might just make going home for the holidays a lot easier.


  1. In what way do you see yourself using this approach at home or at work?
  2. What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or done during any holiday season?

For more information about the Focused Conversation Method, check out The Technology of Participation, here.

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A Sleepy Elf
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