The holidays are coming. It means festivities and joy, but it can also mean stress, anger, resentment, family dynamics you're sick of, extra work at the office, grinding travel, amped-up kids, weather problems, and, because of all this stress on your immune system, illness.

What can help? Emotional intelligence and etiquette. Etiquette exists to grease the wheels of social interaction, and make the other person feel good. Here are some common dilemmas, what to say, what not to say, and why.

1. The invitation. While you may be waiting for the best offer, your hostess wants to know that she's the best offer. At the same time, you don't want to be left home alone. Sound familiar?

BEST RESPONSE: "Yes we'd love to come," (yes please) or "I'm sorry we already have plans," (no thanks) or, (if shopping, have excuse ready) "We'd love to, but I can't say 'yes.' We're waiting to see if Fred's folks are coming. [sigh] You know how that is."

AVOID: "Um ... um ... I don't know. Can I let you know later?"

STRATEGY: If you are shopping for the best deal, have prepared ahead of time a plausible reason (Fred’s folks) to delay a response.

2. The hostess replies to the above.

BEST RESPONSE: To 'yes' - "Glad you can come" and give details. To ‘n’ - "I'm so sorry. Maybe another time." To the 'waiting' - you take the lead here. If you want them to come, say "Well let me know. It's an open invitation. And if Fred's folks come, they're welcome too." If you think they're looking for a better deal and are annoyed, UNinvite them, but do it this way: "Oh, okay then. Maybe another time."

AVOID: Confrontation, as in, "What's the matter? Are you looking for a better deal?" Or losing i: "That's the last time we ever ask you over."

3. The monster-in-law. (weird uncle, abrasive sister, etc.) who picks a fight. Let's say she says, "Oh, [ha ha] I see you still can't be bothered to iron a blouse."

BEST RESPONSE: Ignore it, smile, change the subject. "It's so good to see you. How was the drive?" or "Please pass the mashed potatoes."

AVOID: Taking the bait. Do not get angry and allow yourself to get sucked in to discussing whether a blouse should be ironed, whose business it is what your wear, her mental health, your opinion of her personality, or why she feels she has to bring this up every time. (Bile and pumpkin pie don't go well together!)

4. The game. If watching the game is vitally important to you or your spouse, and you've been invited to someone's house, deal with it -- but subtly.

YOU: "Oh we'd love to come, but Tom has just GOT to see the game at 5 pm." Then your hostess can say that’s not a problem, or "Oh, I'm sorry. I understand. I guess we'll have to get together another time."

AVOID: "We won't come unless Tom can watch the game." It's not your event to plan. Also you don't want to overtly suggest that the game means more than an invitation to their house (even though it does).

5. How to keep the guests from staying all day and all night.

THE INVITATION: "We'll be eating before the game, so why don't you come about X. Then it won't have to be a later evening, you know … the kids ... it's a work night for Al ..."

AVOID: I want everyone out of my house by 7 pm.
6. How to get them to go home once they're there.

BEST TACTIC: When it's time for them to go home, give strong nonverbal signals. Appear to be restless or bored (start fidgeting or look around). Yawn. Get up from your chair and start emptying ash trays. Yawn. Start massaging your tired back. Let the conversation lag. Ask one of the guests, "Do you have to go to work tomorrow?" and glance at your watch.

AVOID: Go home! Leave!!! I worked all day, I'm exhausted, and I have to clean all this up and then go to work in the morning.

7. The parting. When you, the guest with the high EQ, sense it's time to go home, stand up, announce that you must lave, and start heading toward your coat/the door. Your hostess will then say, "Oh, please don't go," or "Must you leave so soon?"

BEST RESPONSE: Insisting you stay is a formality. Ignore it, and take your leave, Because of No. 6, and also because it's always best to leave them wanting more.

AVOID: Taking that literally - that's naive.

ALSO AVOID: Getting into a whole new conversation at the door. Talk as they escort you to your car, or whatever, then thank them again and go home.

8. The gift - should you or shouldn't you?
No one's going to refuse a gift, or think ill of you for bringing one, come on! But is it required? No. But it's always welcome.

UNLESS: You bring a food or another item that "one-ups" the hostess or appears to be correcting a fault.

SUCH AS? Such as bringing a fancy gourmet pumpkin pie or (surely dear readers, none of you would do this) a lovely bathroom hand towel when she has never had anything in the guest bath besides paper guest towels).

SO WHAT'S SAFE? A bottle of wine or liqueur, a box of chocolates, or fresh flowers.

9. The cell phone.

BEST ETIQUETTE: Turn your cell phone off or leave it home. Unless you are on-call (I mean like a doctor or therapist). If you are in the position of possibly having to deal with an emergency (say your aged mother is flying to Beirut that day), say that you have this pending, and "I hope everything will be alright, but I might have to take a call." Then set it on vibrate. If it goes off, get up and go off in private to talk.

AVOID: Talking on your cell phone! Pay attention to the real people who are there. This isn't a "virtual" event.

POSSIBLE EXCEPTIONS: Very casual, all-family gatherings where those who couldn't be present call to join in.

10. The conversation. As a guest, it's your job to participate and be pleasant, keep the conversation going, and help everyone have a good time. Make them grateful that you came.
You’ll get an A+ if you: Smile, and if you have a list of safe and positive topics, the discussion of which makes people feel GOOD (weather, kids, Christmas plans, movies, the new shopping mall, books, travel).
You’ll get an F if you: Bring up controversial, tasteless and/or upsetting topics, the discussion of which makes others feel BAD or UNCOMFORTABLE (your surgery, your mother's ulcerative colitis, Fred's drinking, how hard it was to get there, your divorce, religion, war, politics, your love life, abortion, how depressing and stressful the holidays [your life][Aunt Mary][your work] are, how your sister can't control her kids or your father can't control his tongue, or anything about WEIGHT!. (You get the picture.)

Author's Bio: 

©Susan Dunn, MA, Dating Coach,, Susan can help you find the partner of your dreams. Individual coaching, ebooks and Internet classes. Susan also certifies coaches worldwide, in a top-rated, fast, effective, comprehensive no-residency program. Email her for fr*e ezine.