Thanksgiving Day Tips: How to Handle Tricky Topics at the Holiday Table


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The holidays can bring up lots of different feelings. Holiday entertaining can be stressful. For some people, simply asking a family member to “pass the mashed potatoes” can feel like an emotional minefield. Does it feel like your family is arguing all the time around the holidays? Hallmark tells us that Thanksgiving Day and Christmas should be our “Happiest” days of the year. However, hot topics ranging from real politics to family politics can make us feel edgy and tense.

Heated arguments and conflict can cause us to shorten Thanksgiving Day celebrations or even avoid them altogether.

A Simple Strategy to Diffuse Conflict on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day, family arguing all the time

Are you stressing over tricky topics that might pop up while you’re gathered for turkey? I have some great strategies for diffusing a discussion before it becomes heated.

Tip 1: Stay Busy With Holiday Entertaining

I don’t usually advocate for “avoidance” tactics. However, I make an exception when it comes to avoiding holiday scuffles that can arise from heated topics. An excellent strategy for avoiding heated arguments is to simply be too busy on Thanksgiving Day to get caught up in conversations that are heading in darker directions.

Volunteering to host is a great way to ensure that you’re never in one spot for more than a few minutes! You can also use the tactic of “staying busy” even if you’re visiting friends or family for the holidays. Volunteer to slap on an apron to be in charge of serious responsibilities like monitoring the turkey, making the stuffing, baking the pies or manning the bar area. You will always have the excuse of “needing to get back to the kitchen” when you sense a tense conversation building up! I especially love this strategy if you’re trying to avoid political discussions when you know you’ll be walking into the “lion’s den” when celebrating with loved ones with opposing views.

Tip 2: Have an Escape Strategy

There’s a big emotional benefit to knowing you can leave if you want to. Just the idea of being trapped at a Thanksgiving Day dinner with a family arguing all the time can make us feel agitated. My advice is to have a plan for where to go when you simply need a little break. Stake out a front porch, back deck, spare bedroom or quiet den that can be used when you want to dodge fiery conversations for a bit.

Tip 3: Memorize Some “Canned” Responses

Rude comments can be shocking. So, how do you deal with them? While your knee-jerk reaction might be to respond in kind, avoid the urge to do so. Instead, avoid stooping to their level. Let’s say you receive a very rude comment regarding anything from your relationship status to the person you voted for in the last election. Don’t go on the defense. Don’t get tangled up in a battle of words. Instead, use short, pointed answers that simply let the rude statement stand. Here are some great short statements that you can “steal” from me: 

  • “That’s an interesting observation.”
  • “What an interesting question.”
  • “What makes you ask that?”
  • “I’ll keep that in mind.”

 These statements diffuse uncomfortable conversations because they “kill” the conversation in its tracks. The “rude” thing that the other person just said is left to hang in the air. This makes the other person very likely to back away instead of prodding you further.

Tip 4: Get Ahead of the Situation

Can Thanksgiving day really be peaceful when there’s an unresolved topic hanging in the air? I think it’s OK to address the elephant in the room if you feel like it will be impossible to get through the day without someone bringing up the sore subject at the worst time. Reach out to the people you’ll be spending the holidays with ahead of time to let them know that you’d like to discuss the issue at a different time. Ask for a mutual agreement that takes the “tricky topic” at hand off the table for holiday dinner.

Tip 5: Always Count to 20

I know this seems overly simplistic. However, I highly recommend making a pact with yourself to not respond to anything you find offensive for at least 20 seconds. Yes, I mean literally counting to 20 slowly in your head while the statement lingers in the air. This small window of time allows you to summon grace and composure and avoid saying something that you will regret later. 

Tip 6: Look Within

Remember why you’re gathering with these people you love during the holidays! I know how frustrating it can be when your family is arguing all the time and you have strong opinions that are so different from those you care about! However, it’s also important to approach all conversations with love, acceptance and openness, even if you fundamentally disagree with someone. Remember that you don’t have to be in perfect agreement with someone to love them. Personally, it’s easier to sit at the table in unity when I’m not straddling a high horse. Humility feeds genuine connection. I think it’s also important to remember that we can all learn something by taking time to listen to others.

Are You Ready for a Peaceful, Calm Thanksgiving Day?

Feeling like we can stop the conversation from getting out of control is often enough to take the edge off. A peaceful holiday balancing act combines the right mix of mutual respect and self-preservation! This mini toolkit full of tips can help you easily diffuse even the most tricky dinner-table topics on Thanksgiving Day.

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