4 tips on how to navigate political conversations at your Thanksgiving dinner

CLEVELAND - For many people, Thanksgiving dinner brings along a few prerequisites: pumpkin pie, turkey, and awkward family conversations. 

And the potential for uncomfortable discussions may be extra high after a controversial presidential election season.

Cleveland School of Etiquette owner Colleen Harding shared a few ways on how to make sure your holiday meal is light on candidate chats and heavy on quality time. 

  • Don’t stay away. After seeing your great uncle's lengthy Facebook rants, the temptation may be strong to completely skip out on family gatherings to avoid any potential uncomfortable political conversations.

But Harding said not to give in.

“We have to be grownups and figure out how to live together,” she said. “I think people get into trouble when they think of only their own agenda. Thanksgiving is a time to come together to count your blessings.”

  • Make it a politics-free zone. Harding used to advise people to have a basket near the entrance to drop off electronics for a meal free of distractions. But now, she recommends asking people to check their political affiliations and election thoughts at the door instead.

Hosts should ask guests to declare a truce to avoid talking about politics at all. Guests should focus on each other instead of differences, she said. 

If hosts feel the need to spell it out, she even suggests potentially adding a banner explicitly saying saying it’s a no-politics space.

  • ...and then, stand your ground. Of course, a guest may go off script. If that happens, Harding said you have permission to totally shut the conversation down.

“Say ‘in the spirit of a holiday that’s about thankfulness, let's agree to disagree and not to go into this topic,’” she advised. "‘Let’s keep the peace as a gift to each other. In the name of being a family, let's agree to avoid those topics.'"

  • Focus on easy-to-digest conversation topics.  Looking to break the ice as you break bread? There are plenty of things to talk about that aren’t in the political world--like the success of local sports teams or Christmas shopping plans.

“Ask people questions about themselves and sit back and listen,” she said. “Practice your listening skills.”


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