A Guide to Successfully Diverting and Directing Thanksgiving Conversations

With topics as divisive as the Syrian refugee crisis and ISIS being on the edge of our minds and the tips of our tongues, we simply cannot go into this holiday unprepared.  

The first and most important component to quelling these topics before they pit family members against family members in dialogue death-matches is to act quickly.  What seems to be a mere passing bud of discussion, innocently wafting about, can circumnavigate the room in seconds and bloom into a full blown conversation/ argument if you’re not careful.  All three of these approaches require a level of general awareness, if you think simply sitting back and relaxing will help you avoid the inevitable argument with Uncle Charlie, the one which ends with you calling him a “ignorant racist” and he labeling you a, “bleeding heart liberal wuss” -or vice versa- you are mistaken.  The only successful approach is an active approach.


When one of these topics are breached simply say a throwaway phrase such as, “yeah, crazy” or, “it’s a mess over there” and then quickly divert the conversation to an area of shared interest.  Find a common wavelength and live there until the well runs dry, and when it runs dry, immediately transition to another. Dead air is an invitation for current events conversations and that is precisely what you want to avoid.  I find that sports is a diverting topic that works quite well.  Of course, feel free to choose your own, as SNL pointed out, love for Adele seems to nearly universal at this point.  Other recommendations: TV shows, films, fashion, Kanye West, smartphones, food, drinks.  All of these are sufficient in that, disagreement in these realms tends to be minor and will rarely end in raised voices and familial division.¹


This one is about as basic as it gets.  As soon as one of these topics are raised, you simply remove yourself from the general vicinity with an excuse related to a food, beverage or bodily function (saying you just realized you didn’t say hello to a certain aunt, uncle, or grandparent also works here).  The key with this approach is to not be too obvious, use one of the aforementioned diverting phrases or something like, “crazy world out there” and then follow that with a glance toward a relative across the room and say, “oh, I never said hi to Grandma ______” and rise up and say hello to Grandma.  “Going to run to the bathroom” also tends to be a less original but effective option.  This option is for those of you who do not feel comfortable applying conversational diversion tactics and would rather be 100% sure to avoid any and all discussion about these topics.


AMATEURS BEWARE²: this approach is risky.

The blend requires a much higher level of sophistication and it can be far more difficult to pull off then the other two options.  To initiate a blend to a middle ground one must act upon the initial statement and work to slowly massage the conversation to a place between the two regions of thought.  Now when opinions are monoliths with their foundations embedded deep within the fringe, this is nearly impossible.  But for those who are OK with a moderate level of discernment, this practice can work.  The key to this is to always be in the colloquial driver’s seat.  For example, if the initial statement is said with anger (which they often are in these scenarios) combat said anger with a compassionate and relaxed tone to immediately signal to the other party that you’re not interested in a negatively charged conversation.  If you effectively steer the cadence, volume and content of the conversation to a place of kindness you will see the overall direction of the exchange transform.  This form of rhetoric typically takes practice, as there is a level of linguistic refinement and a general overarching zen quality that needs to be ever-present, but if you think you’re worthy of the challenge, give it a try.  This is the only option on this list that can actually lead to progress and understanding, but it is also the only one that invites the conversation to occur and thus, in many ways, is playing with fire.  Once you initiate the blend there is no turning back, you have invited the lion into your home and now you must do your best to tame it.

Good luck and happy Thanksgiving.

¹ I cannot guarantee this as certain individuals take their culinary, technological and Yeezy leanings quite seriously.  If this is the case, try TV (but not Homeland).

² By “amateurs” I am referring to those who do not deem themselves true mavens of the conversational arts.  If dialogue in general is not something you think about outside of when it is occurring, be weary of this approach.


by Jesse Mechanic

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