How to Talk to a Family Member You Don’t Know Very Well.


Five Tips For an Anxiety-Free Conversation.

Whether you are attending a family reunion, funeral, wedding or just meeting a distant relative one on one, these five tips will help make your conversations easier. 

  1. Learn as much as you can about your relative(s).
  2. Observe them in conversation with others. 
  3. Ask “neutral questions”.
  4. Be genuinely interested in their responses.
  5. Use open body language.

Talking to a stranger that is also a family member can be an anxiety provoking situation. 

Let’s get into the tips.

Learn What You Can About Your Relative(s).

This tip may seem obvious, but learning as much as you can about your relative before meeting them will be very helpful.

it’s surprising how unprepared most of us are for new situations. Think of gathering info on your relatives like preparing for an interview and do some research!

Ask other family members for their memories or impressions of the people you are going to meet. See what they have to say.

You can also do a simple internet search for them or use the services of a genealogy site like ancestry.com. 

If you can find any old photos that may be mutually interesting, bring them with you to the event or even take pictures of them on your phone to use as possible conversation aids.

Observe Them in Conversation With Others.

Once you arrive at the gathering or event, try and observe your mystery relative in action. 

See how they carry themselves and watch them in conversation with others.

If you hear them laughing gregariously over something, you’ll feel more comfortable bringing up that funny story your dad told you.

Ask Neutral Questions.

The last thing you want to do is ask an offensive or loaded question. Best to stick to safe subjects, at least at first.

After scouring the internet for good, neutral questions to spark conversation with a distant relative, I thought these were good ones:

  • Ask where they are originally from then ask about the place specifically. What it might be known for, have they been back, do they still have family living there etc?
  • Does your family have any special or secret recipes?
  • What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard?
  • What’s the strangest compliment you’ve ever received?
  • What is the most unbelievable thing that’s ever happened to you?
  • What’s the last place you traveled to? What was it like there?

Use Open Body Language When Talking.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the non-verbal cues we give others when we approach or are approached for conversation. 

Not facing someone straight on or crossing your arms are signals that you are not enthused about talking to someone. 

Hiding your hands is also a sign that you are hesitant. 

People will pick up on these signals to “back off”, even if just on a sub-conscious level.

When talking to your distant relative, try and face them squarely, look them in the eye and keep your arms open and use your hands, specifically to shake theirs upon meeting.

Check out this short video for quick tips in the body language department.

Show Genuine Interest in Them.

The quickest way to form a bond with someone is to show interest in them and not try and force them to take interest in you.

Making them feel seen and heard is an easy way to a real connection.

Even though they are practically strangers, putting their needs ahead of your own in that moment will leave them feeling better for having met you!

Most people like to talk about themselves, they like hearing their name repeated back to them and everyone likes to feel valued and seen.

If your relative is telling stories of the past, really put yourself in their shoes and reflect back what it must have been like to be them.

Showing genuine empathy and interest will go a very long way in producing a successful conversation and maybe even a new friendship.

For inspiration, here is a great quote from a Quora member sharing tips on meeting family members that you don’t know very well.

“What was amazing though was that we had cultural similarities and memories and stories to tell of our mutual relatives. We laughed at the same things and even looked alike. Don’t worry, just relax, they are your people. You will find things go better than you expect.”

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