Last weekend a friend of mine attended a wedding held in Canada. She was chatting with a friend who had just moved from Europe to her home state, Georgia, for work. Soon a couple came over and introduced themselves. They asked the second woman, who was Swedish, where she was from, and when she responded that she lived in Georgia, they made dramatic groans and started complaining about their experiences with the South. After a few moments, my friend smiled and said, “This is probably a bad time to tell you that I was born and raised in Georgia.” The couple immediately tried to backtrack—“Oh, everyone there is friendly, it’s just not what we’re used to”—but the damage was done.
The lesson? It’s best to not announce your opinions on a topic unless you’re with close friends. At events like weddings and business conferences, you tend to meet people from a variety of backgrounds, and you should never assume that a person will agree with you. It’s far better to ask any person you meet some polite, informal questions to get to know them better, and steer clear of controversial topics.
You should also avoid gossip or criticisms if you’re talking to someone new. I know someone who was at a networking party and commented that he wasn’t a fan of the event’s set-up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of the night that he realized that the person he had been complaining to was the event organizer’s husband!
When we meet new people, we can sometimes grasp at straws just to make conversation. However, voicing a negative opinion or resorting to catty gossip runs the risk of offending someone and causing hurt feelings. Stay positive, or at the very least neutral. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it!