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8 Tips to Help You Navigate the Thanksgiving Dinner Conversation

Here’s the recipe you need for a peaceful holiday meal.

 

Thanksgiving is next week, meaning an inpouring of family members, outlandish amounts of turkey and stuffing, aaand...inevitably uncomfortable discussions.

Whether it’s cringeworthy post-midterm election comments or prying questions into your personal life, the best thing you can do while navigating these awkward conversations is to stay calm. The last thing you want to do is send everyone into a frenzied shouting match that sours the mood. Choose your route wisely depending on who you’re engaging with...crack a joke with your sister-in-law Helen, politely offer evidence to the contrary to your brother Nathan, or if it’s your misogynist Uncle Peter, just totally change the subject.

It’s hard to strike a balance between the desire to correct misguided family members and the need to maintain the peace. At InHerSight, we know it’s not easy to keep your cool when the world is seemingly on fire, but keep in mind, Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful and spend time with loved ones who you might not get to see as often. So focus on catching up, hop into your stretchiest pair of pants, and secure your approach:

If you’re the host…

1. Choose the seating arrangements wisely

As the host, you have the power to arrange seating in a way that is conducive to a civil atmosphere. If you think that seating strait-laced Grandpa Jim and rowdy Cousin Rachel near each other could potentially start a riot, seat them on opposite sides of the table. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

2. Take the lead on conversation starters

As everyone is scooping heaps of mashed potatoes and turkey onto their plates, open with a neutral conversation starter. By taking the lead, you can avoid classic pot stirrer Uncle Henry’s opening line, “Speaking of cinnamon sweet potatoes, did y’all hear that liberal Sinema won the race in Arizona?” Oof. Stick to safe topics like sports, movies, and upcoming vacations.

3. Become an expert interjecter

Thanksgiving is one of the few times when interrupting can actually be a skill to have rather than an annoying flaw. Watch your guests and keep your eye on the ones who are particularly sensitive—when someone is visibly uncomfortable in a conversation, relieve them from stress by interjecting, “Hey Aunt Emma, tell me about that new promotion you just received!”

4. Control the flow of wine

There’s bound to be a steady circulation of wine bottles over the table, and if you control the flow, you might be able to prevent Grandpa Evan from having one too many and saying something he’ll regret later. Keep the bottles in the kitchen, pour the wine for the guests yourself, and if anyone starts getting too boisterous, offer them dessert instead of more wine.

If you’re the guest…

5. Find an ally before you sit down

Link up with someone who you know has your back. Make sure there’s a mutual understanding that if one of you feels uncomfortable in a conversation and doesn’t know how to politely exit, the ally can change the subject or ask for your help with something.

6. Practice being a good conversationalist

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to practice being a good conversationalist. There will be plenty of time to both listen and talk, and when you feel an unwanted, heated discussion brewing, have some conversation segues ready in your back pocket. Observe body language to assess how others are feeling about your chat.

7. Apologize if you’ve offended someone

Conversely, if you decide to hit the political convo nail right on the head, proceed with caution. Age gaps and different political beliefs can be a recipe for disaster, so if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve really offended someone else, just be the bigger person and apologize.

8. Take advantage of the excess of food

Last but not least, you can use the mounds of carbs to your advantage—literally stuff your mouth to prevent yourself from launching a verbal attack on your family members that still don’t think the gender wage gap exists. Carbs are good for us anyways, right?

The holidays don’t have to be a time of strife. Follow this recipe for success, and you’ll be thankful when even the rowdiest of family members is unable to ruin the evening.

By Cara Hutto

Born and raised a Tar Heel, Cara Hutto is a culinary aficionado and zealous writer consumed by wanderlust. She's passionate about women's issues and interviewing inspirational women in her community.

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