Kacie Blogs

10 ways to steer uncomfortable holiday dinner chats


Around this time of year two camps of people start popping up. People who are overly enthusiastic about the holidays and those who only want to dwell on the fact that they don’t want to go see their family and discuss the uncomfortable things that always come up. *You can be a member of both*

Navigating uncomfortable conversations is a tool everyone should know how to do it. It’s not only an excellent way to get through large family gatherings but learning to communicate through conflict is a skill to be applied nearly everywhere. But let’s start small. Like, not flipping your lid at the distant relative who is really pursuing the political talk. These are some basic techniques you can apply to navigate these situations without being impolite.

1. Set the tone at the beginning

They can’t say you didn’t warn them. Before the night even begins, have the awkward talk about ditching the obviously contraversial things. Say you won’t be commenting on the relationship that just ended. If you know that is a recipe for additional pressure, there is power in numbers. Get your favorite cousin in on avoiding the subject, just be clear and hold your ground. Generally, it’s better to have the slightly uncomfortable talk at the beginning about NOT bringing it up than for the conversation to turn very sour in the middle of appetizers and set a nasty tone for the night.


2. Keep it neutral

Bringing it up at the start sound like an invitation for others to ask about it? Then keep it all neutral. Don’t avoid conversation at all, just keep your responses on the more neutral side and avoid offering your own opinion. In a spot where you might interject one, form it into a question instead, “did you ever think about it like this?” “oh what made you feel that way about it?” etc.

Small talk is cheap but it is safe. Neutral topics can be new restaurants in the area, new shows to binge, what the recipe for something is, ask about anything newly acquired for the house and other things of that nature. The less pauses in conversation, the less someone will search for those questions or topics you didn’t want to touch on.


3. End the topic by suggesting a family activity in another room

Nothing a good diversion can’t fix!

Science shows that the act of entering another room kind of acts like a “reset” on our mind. We tend to forget things done in the room before right after walking into a new one. Take your family that is about to get hot on a topic and lead them into another location and watch as half of them draw a blank as to why you even asked them to go into that room.


4. Don’t take the bait

Sometimes *most of the time* it’s up to you. Hold yourself accountable for what happens to the degree that you are responsible and don’t take the bait. Easier said than done. When being agged on, just say, “not falling for that one today, Satan!” and leave the room.


5. Use the kids

Okay I know how this sounds… Really you shouldn’t put kids into the middle of arguments so this only works if it’s pre-fighting. If you have the sense to know when something is getting fishy, that’s when you can still use the kids… and by that I mean, ask their opinion on the matter. Ask what they would do or what they know about it. Normally when someone is in the wrong, they will back off because they realize it’s not something they can explain away to them.

Obviously take caution with this one.


6. Be TOO agreeable

Kill them with the kindness. Be too agreeable. Things like, “well I can see why you would feel that way.” “I acknowledge that’s what you grew up around.” ” Yes, I believe you did find something that said that.” Can’t argue with someone that is just rolling with whatever you’re saying.


7. Watch your own alcohol consumption

Aww man, personal responsibility again… 🙁

Ah, we must admit, we all have trouble biting our tongue after the spirits hit us. You don’t have to be out of control drunk to take something the wrong way and then let some sort of verbal assault.

If you really and I mean really want to avoid an over-dinner altercation then maybe ditch the booze until you get home. Then have a celebratory drink for how proud of yourself you are for not starting an argument no one would win.


8. Be involved

Be busy! It’s hard to catch someone long enough to argue when they are the person walking around and picking up dirty plates, changing a diaper, prepping food, setting up the next activity.

The more you are involved the less likely someone will stop you and force you to give details about the embarrassing life-change you didn’t want to discuss.


9. Volunteer information

Consider this your Trojan horse. No one is going to think to delve into conversation if you are volunteering your “life’s story” (ya know, minus the part you wanted to avoid talking about.)

When you come off as an open book, no one has any reason to think you’re not. Sure it’s a little deceptive but it’s for the good of the family dinner!


10. Acknowledge your limitations

We aren’t superhumans. At the end of the day, sometimes we just have to acknowledge our own limitations.

If time and time again you have tried to bite your tongue only to fail then maybe it’s time to try something else. Like removing yourself from the situation entirely. Maybe this year, take Thanksgiving off from the family and see if distance can make the heart grow fonder.

Not attending the dinner entirely might not be applicable but you can still just say no and bounce. Show up and when things are looking to head south, let your family know it’s time you leave on a good note! I read something one time that was like 80% of people say conversations go longer than they want them to, so leaving “early” could actually be good for everyone.

During the holidays it’s so easy to get caught in everything happening around us and we forget to check in with ourselves. Winter takes a mental toll on people every year, so you’re not alone.

So many people dread seeing their families and not even because they think they are bad people. It’s all to avoid one type of conversation- whether it’s politics, relationships, careers, finances and it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. At some point we all started feeling really entitled to other people’s personal information ( a consequence from reality tv and social media,) but then expect privacy and respect in return from others. It makes no sense. I think the best gift we can give to people this year is respect.

Find some joy with your family, be blood or bond, for the holidays and remember the good they are supposed to bring.




Bye, Friends!