How to Redirect Awkward Thanksgiving Table Talk

Family dinners can be awkward at the best of times, but when family members travel from near and far to gather for Thanksgiving dinner, conversations can go downhill faster than you can call dibs on the turkey leg. Before you head out of town for the holiday, pack your patience and consider these seven tips on how you can reframe the dreaded Thanksgiving table talk and turn a bad conversation into a good conversation.

#1 Give guests a heads up

You may be able to head off any conversations that may be emotionally charged by notifying guests in advance that certain topics will not be welcomed at the dinner table. Remind guests as you all gather together in love this holiday season to refrain from controversial conversations and instead to focus on family, good food and most of all, gratitude.

#2 Ask about the past

When gathering together with multiple generations, take a trip down memory lane and focus the conversations on warm memories or current positive experiences. Karen Speel, LICSW Clinical Social Worker & Founder of The Women’s Center for DBT in Woburn, Massachusetts gives an easy example to implement: “An example [of this] might be really complimenting someone on how good the food came out or all of the effort that went into cooking.” It’s also a good opportunity to ask older relatives about their lives and the memories they have growing up maybe even asking about Thanksgiving pasts. You never know what you may learn about family members!

#3 Break the ice

In order to get guests comfortable with Thanksgiving table talk, start with an ice breaker. It can be as simple as asking everyone what they are thankful for this year. It may sound quite obvious considering the holiday, but focusing on what people are thankful for creates optimism and positive morale around the dinner table.

#4 Look ahead

If awkward conversation or topics still manage to arise, try and steer dinner guests towards the future. Holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year are right around the corner, so ask guests if they have any exciting events planned for the end of the year. Get creative and ask about upcoming business travels, goals, vacations and any visions for the New Year ahead. Be prepared for the same questions to be asked of you though, so give these topics some thought beforehand.

#5 Pop into pop culture

Pop culture can be considered neutral territory, but not all generations keep up with the Kardashians (guilty), so try to stick to general topics like cooking shows or home and decorating trends. You may find out who would be interested in living in a tiny home and traveling around the country. Road trip anyone?

#6 Share a story

Whether you discuss a recent trip or old family memories from holidays past, everyone loves a good story. Bonus points if it’s funny! It’s nice to reminisce about family memories together when you may otherwise be feeling disconnected or possibly even argumentative.

#7 Take a time out from Thanksgiving table talk

Despite best efforts, controversial and contentious topics may still come up around the dinner table. It’s completely okay to take a “bathroom break” in order to avoid certain conversations you don’t feel comfortable being around. Give yourself a timeout and step away so you can regroup before returning to the dinner table and maybe stop by the dessert tray while you’re up. Who doesn’t enjoy a sweet treat? Thanksgiving is all about gathering together with family and friends over a delicious meal, so despite what type of table talk takes place this Thanksgiving, be thankful for the people gathered around your dinner table this year.

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About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.

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