8 Survival Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner Conversations

No matter how well intentioned everyone is at the holidays, uncomfortable conversations around the dinner table can sneak up on us and ruin the day. Considering that the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America Survey found that 27 percent of adults strongly or somewhat agree that the political climate has strained their family relationships, it’s a great time to consider how to safely navigate the Thanksgiving waters.

The APA recommends these tips:

  1. Find areas where you agree. Listen to the most important underlying point of the other person’s argument. You might disagree on gun control, but at the end of the day you both simply want to keep your children safe. By finding and discussing shared viewpoints, disagreements could be lessened and so could your stress level.
  2. Take the high road. Avoid personal attacks. Work to avoid sensitive topics, and always be mindful of your words and tone to avoid having a conversation grow hostile and combative. You don’t want to ruin your relationship with a family member for the rest of your life.
  3. Keep calm when tensions rise. Preparing in advance how you’ll react calmly to upsetting conversations can help you ease tension. If you know you flare quickly in a heated conversation, remind yourself to take deep breaths, step back, and change the conversation. You control your own emotions, and being aware of them is the first step in keeping calm with others.
  4. Have conversation goals. Set easily attainable goals, like simply to hear and better understand another person’s point of view, regardless of the topic. 
  5. Accept that you might not change anyone’s mind. With that in mind, use the conversation as a chance to share views, not to convince everyone that you alone are correct.
  6. It’s OK to disagree. Differences of opinions are a fact of life, and your beliefs are part of what makes you unique. It can be hard to accept that close relatives hold completely different ideologies than you, but understanding their viewpoints can lead to a healthier relationship.
  7. Know when to stop talking. If you realize the conversation has not and will not come to a resolution, change the topic or suggest another activity while underscoring the importance of the relationship you have with the other person.
  8. Be proactive. Holiday gatherings are meant to bring people together, not drive them apart. Plan activities that foster fun and sharing like playing board games or reminiscing over old photo albums.

Remember, it’s just one day. With a little planning and manners, everyone can find a way to share a Thanksgiving meal without giving each other heartburn.

The APA recommends its Psychology Help Center for more information about managing relationships and stress and talking to kids about difficult subjects.