Making Conversation At The Thanksgiving Table Without Drowning In Politics and Chardonnay

11/14/2017 01:00 pm ET

I have held off on writing a piece on navigating tricky political discussions because I, dear friends, continue to wake up every day thinking surely I will not be kicked in the face with sand YET AGAIN by what is sadly our front page news. Stories that include murder and mayhem and international intrigue and so much more.

But it would be wrong to send you into the holiday season without a little guidance. Yes, yes, I know we’ve already sailed past Halloween but you all had things like masks and chocolate and small children begging for candy to alleviate any potential conversational squalls. But Halloween is sadly over and now we face the big storm: Thanksgiving.

While we would all like to pretend Thanksgiving is going to be like this:

Martha Stewart Living

Sometimes it really feels like this:


Too much time with too much family. Too much alcohol and too many mashed potatoes. Too many presidential tweets and too few places to hide.

So how does one manage conversation during the holidays?

Avoid and redirect.


Stay far, far away from anything remotely exacerbating and when you see a titanic of a topic coming your way, be ready with your own life vest.


Prepare yourself with a plethora – and I mean an obscene amount – of other things to talk about including but not limited to:

Any sports team spanning football to curling – it does not matter.

Movies – old, new, silent, animated…whatever.

Television shows – even shows you have not watched, will never watch, can’t stand. Real Housewives from anywhere. Maury Povich. Even if you don’t own a TV. Fake it.

Family holiday traditions, favorite recipes, food poisoning episodes of yore (I’ve always wanted to use ‘yore’ in a blog and this seemed like the ideal spot,) best gifts given or received. Worst gifts given or received. Of yore.

Funny animal stories, past or future surgeries including those of the dental variety, detailed information about a recent haircut, interpretive dance re-enactment, poetry.

Tips on anything: how to iron a shirt, 100 uses for a paperclip, DIY tattoos without the mess and screaming.

Here’s the deal: We can get sucked into the undertow by negativity because we are pummeled by negativity constantly thanks to the news and social media and television that is literally paid to deliver negativity.

So let’s take a day off. Or – I don’t know – a year. Why spend what is supposed to be a holiday arguing? So we can go home feeling worse about ourselves or others? Why spend a day trying to convince others of our viewpoint on politics or harassment or homelessness or immigration or how best to stuff a turkey?

Before you jump into rough waters with loved ones, think about what really matters most and stay above board. You’ll be glad you did.

Debra Fine was once a shy and tongue-tied engineer and is now an internationally recognized keynote speaker, trainer, communication expert and bestselling author. This is proof that ANYONE can learn how to small talk. Really. Even you. Fine established The Fine Art of Small Talk to teach others how to make conversation, build rapport, mingle and grow relationships at business networking events, conventions, association meetings, trade shows, dinner with people you don’t really like and other various functions you may be forced to attend. 

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