Pass the turkey and mashed potatoes, but hold the drama, please! Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude and good company, yet sometimes it can take a tense turn. Today, I’m thrilled to be sharing 5 super simple ways to avoid an argument around the Thanksgiving table.. Take a few minutes to watch; you’ll thank me Thursday!
1. Set ground rules. Before you head to dinner, have a game plan. Decide what you will and won’t talk about, and stick to it. Avoid topics that are likely to bring up drama. The big three, politics, religion, and money probably come to mind, but you might have different hot button issues in your family. Steer clear of those topics while the turkey is on the table. These ground rules might be your personal ground rules, or you may even set ground rules for the whole table. Whatever the rules, know them and stick to them.
Sidenote: I’m normally a fan of difficult conversations. I want us to talk about real, honest stuff, no matter how tough it might be. But if you want to have a pleasant few hours around the table, I’d save those conversations for another day.
2. Come prepared with stuff to talk about. One of the reasons people often end up talking about current events and politics is because they’re visible, easy access topics. When we don’t have a plan, our brains default to what is easy and what is visible. So come prepared with meaningful, non-confrontational stuff to talk about. Maybe you saw on Facebook that your aunt and uncle took an awesome trip this year. Ask them about it. What were their favorite parts, what were they surprised by? Maybe your sister in law changed jobs. Ask what she is learning, what has been the biggest challenge? Talk about the best book you’ve read this year and what others have enjoyed. Yes, it takes some extra effort to prepare some conversation topics ahead of time, but it’s so worth it.
3. Embrace gratitude. I love the tradition of going around the table and sharing what everyone is thankful for. This year, deepen that tradition, and go beyond the simple question. Try one of these instead. What lesson are you most grateful for this year? What thing from this year was initially tough, but now you find yourself grateful for it. What are you most grateful for about the person sitting on your right? By changing from the standard, “What you are you grateful for this year?” to one of these other questions, you increase the likelihood of rich conversation and increased connection with the people around your table.
4. Shift your attention. If things get tense or you feel overwhelmed, shift your attention to something else. This is a way of telling your brain that you’re not going to give that other thing attention for the time being. It can also help to physically shift your body a bit, sending a subtle signal to the other person and yourself that you’re intent to avoid an argument. If you have kids around your table, they’re an awesome place to shift to. They’re typically kind, silly, and easy to give your energy to.
5. Breathe mindfully. If you feel your body start to tense up, take a slow, mindful breath. Take a deep breath in through your nose, briefly pause, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. (You can see a super helpful tutorial on mindful breathing here.) This activates the part of your nervous system that is responsible for calming down, so it’s super quick and effective. I would recommend doing this before, during, and after the meal.
No matter who you’re sharing your table with this Thanksgiving, take a few minutes to prepare. Be intentional about your approach, and avoid an argument.
And in case things don’t go well, and you need to apologize, I’ve got you covered. How to Apologize: A Simple Formula to Say I’m Sorry.