Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was asked to speak about how to navigate holiday get-togethers during these politically tumultuous times. What to do when Uncle Larry and Cousin Mary start talking turkey—after the wine but before the actual bird is served.
Other protocol experts say make an announcement. At the beginning of the meal or on the invitation, declare the event free of all political discussion. Hmmmmm…How long do you think that will last? Until the first glass of wine, eggnog, or Trader Joe’s (oddly delicious) Winter Wassail is served? Plus, with social media connecting Uncle Larry and Cousin Mary, that pump is probably primed. The other problem I have with the announcement approach is that it sounds like an edict from above. Pushy, a bit stilted—kind of like asking for cash on a wedding invitation.
I do have some suggestions. When you sense Uncle Larry or Cousin Mary is starting down this path, ask one of them a question about their personal life. Humans are predictably egotistical. We like talking about ourselves. Remember, though, to actively listen to the response and follow through with questions that will lead to more personal talk—otherwise, your redirect was nothing other than a short detour.
If Larry and Mary persist, try an I-statement. The use of “you” automatically puts someone on the defensive. “You two keep talking politics and it’s making me tired” places the blame on poor Larry and Mary. This isn’t a great example of making your guests feel welcomed. “I feel so tired whenever anyone discusses politics. Let’s find something more fun to discuss.” This takes the blame away from your guests and gives the group responsibility for coming up with a more suitable topic.