Expert tips for navigating Thanksgiving dinner conversation

"Adulting includes knowing when and what boundaries to respect."

ByABC News
November 21, 2017, 3:25 PM

— -- Perhaps the most daunting thing about Thanksgiving is not navigating the travel, the traffic or the mountains of food but navigating the dinner conversation while keeping the peace.

"Remember that you can endure just about anything for one day, and that includes uncomfortable family settings," Sharon Schweitzer, the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, told ABC News. "Keep your head high and let any annoyances roll off your back rather than letting them provoke you into an argument."

She added, "If possible, seat yourself with family with whom you can share a pleasant conversation without unwanted interjections and focus on enjoying the celebrations rather than avoiding particular people."

Schweitzer shared with ABC News her expert tips for keeping the peace at the holiday dinner table:

Play it safe

Stick with neutral conversational starters that won't provoke a heated debate, such as sports, movies and upcoming holiday plans, Schweitzer suggests. "When you steer clear of hot topics such as politics or religion, you reduce the risk of clashing opinions. If someone brings up a sensitive subject at the table, politely change the topic or offer a gentle but firm conversational closer. Try saying something along the lines of 'That's an interesting point, but in the spirit of the holiday, let's avoid discussing that at the table.'"

Select seats carefully

"If you're hosting the event, consider a seating arrangement to avoid age-old disputes between Cousin Nancy and Uncle Ned," she said. "Seat guests in conflict on opposite ends of the table and place yourself near the center so that you can mediate the conversation if needed."

Schweitzer also suggested keeping "taboo topics" off the table this holiday season. These include:

Politics: "Political conversations are infamous for disrupting the peace at family dinners and family gatherings," she said. "For those with strong opinions, remember there is a time and place for everything. Adulting includes knowing when and what boundaries to respect. This includes refraining from bringing up politics, especially for the sake of peace, the host and the event."

Prying questions: "While you may mean well by asking when your niece is planning to have children or inquiring about someone's relationship status, personal questions push all the wrong buttons," Schweitzer said. Avoid these kinds of questions and instead ask about their hobbies, their new job or their holiday plans.

Religion: "Like politics, religion can stir up strong beliefs and cause disputes among family members of different faiths or philosophies. If you know you're hosting guests with varying belief systems, avoid aggravating any tension by asking about the last time they went to church."

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