We spent the last year or so getting used to Zoom chats and Netflix Party, so it's only fair that we're a bit rusty at face-to-face conversation. If you're feeling like you've forgotten how to talk to people, don't worry – you're not the only one! To help you shake off the conversational cobwebs, we've put together a few tips to help you get back into the groove of having guests over.
Set the tone
Making your home feel warm and welcoming helps your visitor feel at ease, and that comfortable atmosphere will help both of you settle into a natural, free-flowing conversation.
You can lay the foundations for a visitor before they knock on your door (or, more likely, text you to say they're outside) by lighting a candle or some incense – your guest might not consciously notice the delightful scent in the air, but a natural fragrance like the nutmeg and vetiver notes of Studio Milligram's Overland candle will help them settle right in.
Studio Milligram's Overland Scented Candle creates a warm, welcoming atmosphere
Making your guest a cup of tea or coffee is a hospitality staple, but sometimes these things become standards for a good reason. If you're feeling uneasy, having a warm mug in your hands can be comforting; plus, the small kindness of making something for your friend, even something as simple as a coffee, can help build that bond and bring you closer. Kinto's Unitea range adds a little extra delight – brew a fresh pot of tea right there with your guest, and you can both enjoy the hypnotic swirl of the tea leaves idly twisting and blooming in the water. The effect is wonderfully soothing, helping you both relax into a cosy, comfortable chat.
Music is another easy way to help your guest feel at ease. Arlo Park's album for earlier this year, Collapsed in Sunbeams, has some mellow R&B grooves that'll get everyone nice and relaxed, or you could go for the Avalanches' We Will Always Love You if you'd like something with a bit more of a pulse. And if you're struggling for musical inspiration, you can always pop on a playlist like our Milligram mornings mix for some low-key gems.
Take the pressure off
We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to conversation. Especially when we're a little out of practice, it's easy to feel like we need to be somewhere between Socrates and Stephen Fry rather than just chatting openly and casually with a friend.
An inviting way to ease that conversational pressure is to find an activity that you can share. It doesn't have to be anything fancy – in fact, simple things like knitting or sketching are perfect for keeping your hands busy and giving you something to focus on so you don't get too caught up in your own head about what to say next. You don't need to be a great artist – just grab some pencils, turn to a fresh page in your notepad, and you can each try your hand at drawing a picture of your favourite houseplant, or a bunch of flowers, or the view out of your window.
If you don't have an artistic bone in your body, though, working on a puzzle together is an easy and wholesome way to spend some time with a good friend. There's no skill required; just some patience, time, and maybe a nice chill record to spin. Journey of Something's Hey Lady puzzle makes it an easy one to share with a friend, each working on a different iconic woman then bringing them all together to complete the puzzle.
Journey of Something's 'Hey Lady' puzzle celebrates iconic women from Dolly Parton to Michelle Obama
For something a little more active, The School of Life's Friendship Game makes getting to know your friend as easy as rolling some dice. Using a familiar board game format, the Friendship Game doesn't test your trivia knowledge or rely on random chance for fun – instead, each square you land means picking up a card, and answering the question you find. Ranging from the playful ("Do you have any peculiar family traditions?") to the profound ("Describe an early memory you don't like to think about too much"), the Friendship Game's questions are designed to help you move past the how're you doing/not bad phase of conversation into something more real.
Spark a conversation
Feel like skipping the game and just asking each other some tough questions? Grab a bottle of wine (or a make a cup of tea) and crack into 100 Questions for a reflective, insightful and occasionally provocative afternoon with your friend. Grappling with everything from the self and how we see the world to love, work and family, 100 Questions invites you to dig a little deeper and share aspects of yourself that might surprise you and your guests. Talking about what a good death might look like, or your recurring dreams, or a piece of art that's particularly important to you can be a delightfully revealing process, so keep 100 Questions on hand for when your conversation needs a loving kick-start.
If you've been paying attention, you might've noticed that the secret agenda behind the tips you've read so far is that they're all trying to get you to pay attention to the moment, and really listen to your guest. Fretting about what we should be saying gets in the way of us hearing what our loved ones are trying to tell us, and that's when conversations really grind to a halt.
Listen with care. Ask them questions about themselves. Watch their face as they answer, see how they look as they speak, and where they put their hands – there are clues there too. Listening involves more than just your ears. A conversation without listening is just two overlapping monologues, and no one visits a friend to be performed at. Tune into your friend, and you'll be surprised how easily the conversation flows.
And if you're still looking for some handy additions to your conversation toolkit, check out The School of Life's range of card sets, games and novelties to help you get to know your loved one's a little better.