Top Five Things You Can Do To Avoid Political Arguments This Thanksgiving

By Fran Mindel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Communication Arts Dept.
Thanksgiving meal

Whether it conjures up warm feelings of comfort food and connecting with your favorite relatives from out-of-state or disagreements about the menu, worries about who’s not talking to whom, and how to answer questions about your grades/money/relationships, your future, Thanksgiving can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Now this year, we’ve got the added worry of spending the whole meal arguing with our loved ones about the outcome of the recent elections. 

Here are my top five suggestions for how to avoid a political revolution before the turkey is carved:

  1. No Kids Table: It is much more difficult to discuss the state of the union and whether or not the country is going to heaven or hell if the little ones are scattered around the table, especially between the loudest and most oppositional relatives.  Let the kids set the tone and choose what to talk about.
  2. For the Techie Family: If your family communicates via emails and texts before the big day, send out a group message. Ask for the venue to be a “Politics Free Zone.” To get your guests’ help with alternative topics of conversation, ask each person to bring three non-political, positive topics on post-its to put up on a wall or the fridge. To make it more silly, have the topics begin with the same letter of their first name (so Fran might want us to talk about the TV show “Friends,” funnel cakes, and Fiji).
  3. Analyze your Audience: The truth is that some people love a good political debate and they know how to engage in one without making it personal. But everyone might know that you can’t bring up gun control around Uncle Joe. So don’t. Just because you want to discuss Supreme Court Justice picks during the appetizers doesn’t mean everyone wants to. Take your cue from the hostess and host (or the relatives you feel are the most competent, classy communicators) and both watch and listen before you join into any conversation.
  4. Set a Time Limit on Rants: Okay, so maybe you want to allow your guests to vent about their feelings of happiness, anger, and frustration. Set some ground rules and appoint someone to be “in charge.” In fact, it would be great to put them in writing. For example, “Talk about how you feel. Do not tell anyone else they are wrong, stupid, etc. No yelling. No cursing” (you may want to have a “Cuss Jar” for offenders and donate the money to charity). Have a time limit by setting the alarm on someone’s cell phone. However, if things start to get out of hand, make sure your person in charge calls a time out. To diffuse the situation, have a game or activity ready to switch the focus (see topics idea in #2 above).
  5. Show Gratitude: Start the meal by creating or repeating a tradition. It may be a prayer said by one person or the whole group. If you want each person to say what he or she is most grateful for, give people some time to think about it. There is nothing more stressful to the shy and new guests than having to think of something unique, inspiring or funny right on the spot. And don’t forget to be grateful to the cooks, cleaners, and all the others who helped to make the day special.

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