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Tip #5: The fine art of knowing when to get in, or out, of the “kitchen”

When we are hosting friends and family in our home, we often hold unconscious assumptions about what we need to do to be an excellent host, and what is “polite” or “rude” behaviour of our guests.  In this final blog post for the holiday season, we share how you can use the Role Principle to help you work through any in-the-moment challenges where your ideas of what it means to be a great guest or host could be different from someone else.


When we are hosting friends and family in our home, we often hold unconscious assumptions about what we need to do to be an excellent host, and what is “polite” or “rude” behaviour of our guests.

One of the key areas in which people will have very different ideas of what is “polite” or “rude” behaviour when hosting is whether or not guests should, or should not help in the kitchen before, during, or after a meal.  Some people are very strict about not letting their guests help, and will be offended if you attempt to, while others will think you’re rude if you don’t offer to assist.

These are situations in which the Role Principle can really help! If you are a guest, and you’re feeling a little uncomfortable or unsure of what is appropriate for you to do (i.e. get in the kitchen, or stay out!), consider the wisdom of the Role Principle.

As a guest, does your host want you to be an observer, a helper, or facilitator?

Step 1: Observe

The observer role, despite how it may sound, is not a passive role. Observation is a powerful tool for uncovering appropriate communication and behaviour as a guest.

By consciously observing the host family and your surroundings (the sacred place that you are visiting), you will be able to pick up on cues that others may miss, and ask the right questions at the right times to help you know if taking on the helper or facilitator role is appropriate.

If your host prefers guests to stay in the observer role, this means that it is NOT your place to be in the proverbial kitchen, and likely you are expected to passively await your host’s guidance on where to sit around the table, when to go into the living room, and it’s probably wise to resist the urge to try and “help” by getting yourself or others a drink, or taking the appetizer tray into the living room for them.


Step 2: Offer to Help

The helper role in this circumstance is about providing assistance to the host who is facilitating this event, in the way that that host wants to and has asked to be helped.

Some of us love to be helpers, but we need to remember that our host may not want your assistance, and could find your unsolicited “help” to actually be a burden.

So how do you know when to help? Simple! Observe your host and the surroundings first.  If you think there is potential that you could be helpful, share your intent that you would like to help, if they would like your assistance.

If they say they do not want your help, believe them. If you think they may be saying “no” because they feel awkward asking for help, you could make one more simple statement to make sure, such as “Are you sure, I would be very happy to help in any way you need, but I also understand if that’s not what you need right now.”

Whatever you do, don’t insist, and don’t try to help anyways, this will create added stress for your host and could be seen as rude and invasive.

If they say yes, ask them for guidance on how you can be most helpful. For example, if they ask you for help making mashed potatoes and you are a genius potato masher at home, don’t assume that they make their mashed potatoes the same way you do. Ask if they have a specific recipe they want you to follow, or if you can make it the way you usually do. Listen to and respect their guidance. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask more questions.


Step 3: Be the best facilitator of potato mashing you can be!

The final role that you could play as a guest is to be a facilitator. While your host is the ultimate facilitator of the whole event, if you are asked to make an awesome dish, lead a game, or lead any other activity at the gathering, you are the facilitator of that activity.

If you are asked to facilitate in any of these ways, it’s still important to get guidance about what level of autonomy you have in making decisions about how this activity will be completed. In the case of mashing those potatoes, if your host says “mash them however you like”, then go for it you, you are leading that activity and you can be as creative with it as you like. If, however, they have specific guidance for you on how to do it, then you are more of a helper than a facilitator.

Finally, if you are a host in this situation, remember that your guest’s intentions are usually good. If they aren’t helping when you think they should, ask for their help and explain why that’s your custom. If they are being too “helpful” and you’re tripping over them in your proverbial kitchen, you can guide them that their help is not really needed, and give them something else to do or find something to entertain them while you are busy.


If nothing else, remember to be open to doing things differently than you are used to! Just as there are many ways you could mash potatoes, there are also many ways to be an amazing host or guest, according to different cultures and traditions.

At the end of the day, as hosts, and as guests, most people’s intentions are good. If things are feeling uncomfortable, or you’re not sure what your role should be, remember as a guest to:

  1. Observe your surroundings and the host family to learn appropriate behaviours
  2. Ask for guidance on your appropriate role
  3. Help when and how you are guided to
  4. Facilitate only if you have been invited to do so


Happy holidays, friends!

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