We’ll set the stage for you.
You’re sitting at a big table filled with delicious food and you can’t wait to help yourself to some turkey, stuffing, and, of course, the mashed potatoes you spent the morning peeling and mashing from scratch. You’re excited to be surrounded by family members, many of whom you haven’t seen since last year’s holiday festivities.
You begin diving into your food when suddenly you realize it’s happening – the family has broken into a heated political argument, again. The quarreling and tension continue through dessert and the fun, family day you were looking forward to for so long, is quickly becoming less and less fun.
If this sounds like something that happened at your last Thanksgiving, read on for some tips for diffusing the tension from Dr. Yazhini Srivathsal, a psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital.
Set expectations in advance. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your house this year, you can set clear expectations starting with the invitation. Emphasize from the start that this gathering is for people to come together, not to drift apart.
Rest up before the big day. Never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Being well-rested will help ensure you are at your personal best for the day ahead.
Be creative and strategic with the seating arrangement. If Uncle Bob and cousin Sally are notorious for getting into heated arguments, it’s probably best that they don’t sit across from one another at the table. Maybe mix things up and try an assigned seating arrangement with place cards at the table settings. This can also be a fun way to encourage more conversations between family members that don’t see each other on a regular basis.
It takes two to argue. If you feel a debate is beginning to start, don’t let yourself get drawn into an argument. After all, it is very difficult for one person to have an argument if everyone else is keeping their cool. Show interest and listen to other people’s opinions and try to understand their points of view. Consider that people’s perception of the truth might be different from the truth. Also, keep in mind that as the old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Agree to disagree. Before things get too heated, acknowledge the others’ opinions and try to redirect the conversation. Cracking a joke can often be a great way to diffuse the tension in the room. Though it may be difficult, if someone says something to hurt you, do your best to end the cycle there, rather than hurting them back. Understand that you can disagree with someone and still respect and love them.
Have some fun! Have some light-hearted topics in mind to bring up – family events from the past year, fun memories, and, of course, Black Friday shopping lists. Take the time to catch up on each other’s lives and have some genuine conversation. It also never hurts to have some fun activities, like board games, planned for the downtime.
Think about the big picture. Remember that your relationships outlast all political situations, are stronger than any disagreement, and are more important than winning a debate. Enjoy your time with your loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!