Thanksgiving dinner conversation doesn’t always go smoothly. Uncle Hal is telling everyone how to Make America Great Again when Cousin Sue jumps in extolling the virtues of the Green New Deal. Getting from the turkey through the pumpkin pie without a major family meltdown can be tricky. If you want to keep the table talk from running aground, you’ll need to have handy some subtle tricks to steer the conversation in safe directions. These are tips that can help you navigate through Thanksgiving and on to the next round of holiday parties.
Have a game plan.
You can pretty much guess what political topics are going to be on Uncle Hal or Cousin Sue’s mind, so prepare a plan that will help you divert when needed. Experts suggest rehearsing your responses ahead of time. Be prepared with some stock phrases you can use when confronted with invasive or insensitive questions. “We still haven’t decided about each other,” is a good reply as Aunt Edna inquires when you are going to marry your boyfriend of 2 years.
Find the one point on which you agree.
Somewhere in what the other person is saying you find one thing you can agree with. Keep repeating it over and over. Start with the common ground and build slowly from there. You’ll be able to tell when the other person grows tired of elaborating on the subject. They’ll be happy when you subtly shift the conversation to a new topic.
Be prepared to pivot.
You’ve been drawn into a conversation about the merits of presidential candidates and the debate is starting to heat up. Instead of struggling to prove your point, try to move away from the hot topic. “I heard you signed up for the new Disney Plus. I’m really more interested in hearing about that. Do you like it so far?”
Keep redirecting the conversation.
Most people are happy to talk about themselves when someone wants to inquire. Ask people questions about themselves and their personal interests. How was their weekend trip camping in the mountains? Did their garden survive the unexpected early freeze?
Make small talk.
Come prepared with the information you’ve learned about your relatives that they would want to share. Cousin Jack just got back from his honeymoon. Aunt Jane graduated with a master’s degree. Achievements and family milestones are always good diversionary topics. Here are some more:
- Travel: Where they traveled this year or what travel they’ve planned for the coming year will always get people talking.
- Wellness: What are they doing to stay fit, get healthy and achieve calm? What they think about the latest wellness trend or new gym they’ve joined will keep them talking.
- Food: Have they tried the new restaurant downtown? What is their opinion of the organic grocery store that just opened?
- Culture: The latest hit TV show, movie, or book will always get people talking. Ask them about the latest TV show they’ve binge-watched, which is a win-win for your entertainment list the next Saturday night home alone.
Set your boundaries.
If the political talk is just too hot for you to handle, set your boundary. “There’s nothing wrong with saying in a really polite and friendly way that ‘I hope you’ll understand, but I’ve actually decided to take a break from politics this holiday,'” advises etiquette expert Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute and great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post.