We got the low-down from an etiquette expert.

By Jess McHugh
November 21, 2016
Survive Thanksgiving And Avoid Politics
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As U.S. residents around the country start buying their turkeys, rolling their pie crusts, and making all manner of Thanksgiving preparations, many are already bracing for explosive dinner conversations about the recent presidential election.

Thanksgiving falls just weeks after one of the most divisive elections in recent history, in which the rhetoric has caused deep rifts among even close friends and family members.

Whether you are thrilled or disappointed about the election results, many family members agree that they would prefer to eat their turkey and stuffing without a screaming match. For those who hope to pass the holiday season in relative peace, we asked for a few pro tips from etiquette expert Diane Gottsman.

1. Make the dinner table a no-politics zone.

If you’re hosting an event and want to set early boundaries about what you expect from your guests, inform them ahead of time that when the group sits down to turkey, all Trump talk is off the table.

“I want this to be a politics-free zone,” Gottsman suggested saying, or, “I want us to concentrate on each other and on topics that are fruitful and positive and that are going to bring goodwill, and not tear us apart.”

2. Don’t get in the mud.

Even the best made plans can fall apart, and no matter how well you prepare in advance to avoid conflict and keep people from talking politics, sometimes it cannot be avoided. It only takes one person to spark a debate, but family members have the power not to participate, no matter how tempting it may be.

“You can decide that when you respond, if you respond, you’re going to keep your tone neutral,” she said. “Here’s the bottom line: You don’t have to engage. It’s not that you’re going to sit mute, but you don’t have to get in there and start slugging, if that’s what they’re doing.”

3. Take a break.

Take a walk, freshen your drink, or go sit with that one great-uncle who is still glued to the football game when everyone else is in the dining room. No one needs to feel trapped at their dinner table.

“We have to know that we do have options,” said Gottsman.

4. Be proactive: Ask questions (about other topics).

There’s no better way to engage a loved one or even a stranger in conversation than by asking them about their lives. Inquire about their vacations, their jobs or their hobbies. The question can be as mundane as asking about a recipe, as long as you are authentically interested in their response, Gottsman said.

“There are other things to talk about besides politics,” she said. “I think that’s something important that we have to remember.”

(However, “Why haven't you gotten married/had kids yet?” is not the diffusing question you are looking for.)

5. Try something different.

While traditions are a large part of many Thanksgivings gatherings, trying something new this season can offer a breath of fresh air. Experiment with a “friendsgiving,” or take a neighbor up on an invitation you usually turn down. Though attending a holiday feast with strangers can be intimidating, it also presents unique rewards.

“I think it’s great to go to events where you don’t know people because that gives you even more to talk about,” said Gottsman. “There are all kinds of things we can ask somebody else. But the key here is to really listen.”

If all else fails, just play by Gottsman's simple rule of thumb.

“Here’s the rule: When you’re a guest at someone’s home or someone’s event, your job as a guest is to make your host grateful they invited you.”

“If you are the host of the event, your job is to make all your guests comfortable.”