Navigating Uncomfortable Conversations at the Holiday Dinner Table

We love seeing our families over the holidays, but we don't always love the views that are expressed over the dinner table. This year especially there may be more uncomfortable conversations than ever. Whether the catalyst for uncomfortable conversations in your family is politics, religion, or just having to update the entire family on the details of your life and parenting choices, there are some strategies that can help you get through these uncomfortable moments and focus more on the joy of the season.

Image via Flickr/ David Amsler

Justin Lavelle, Communications Director at, has a few tips to help you survive the uncomfortable conversations you may be about to have with family:

7 Tips to Help You Handle Uncomfortable Conversations this Holiday:

  • Ask the Host for a Debate Free Zone. Whether you’re the host of the family gathering or someone else, ask that “hot” topics not be discussed during the gathering. This could pertain to politics, religion, or known differences in opinion. Family members will be more likely to come with a good attitude if they know controversial topics will be avoided.  Everyone may breathe a sigh of relief knowing they are entering a conflict-free zone!
  • Realize You Probably Can’t Change Opinions of Others. You can avoid arguments by realizing something you’ve probably figured out in life on your own already—trying to change someone’s opinion (especially an older family member)—is just about useless. People don’t change their mind by arguing with them. Attempting to change your uncle’s mind will only get you both more defensive of your opinions.  You can politely listen but be the bigger person by not engaging in debate.
  • Be Ok With Silence. Maybe the conversation is uncomfortable because you have nothing in common with a relative. If this happens, don’t try to say something for the sake of talking. Be okay with the silence and use it to plan something intelligent to say. Too many awkward moments happen when we feel the need to blurt out something, only to realize a moment later we just stuck our foot in our mouth. 

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  • Change the Subject. Sometimes tricky, sometimes smooth, changing the subject is almost a conversational art. You can deflect an uncomfortable question by responding vaguely or look at others around you to join in so you’re not alone handling a response. Don’t be afraid to mention something random either, like you just remembered something cool you wanted to share. You’d just need to think of something on the spot.  It may help to come armed with a few neutral topics!
  • Plan Indoor Activities. Where there’s entertainment, there’s little time for debate. Keep the party going by planning activities for everyone to enjoy. Bring out the board games, plug in the karaoke machine, plan a craft table, and have family bring instruments if they play one and get a sing-a-long going. Who doesn’t love a good holiday movie? Play a good movie family can watch together like Miracle on 34th Street or Home Alone. This will ensure the guests have sweet memories about the holiday vs. negative ones. 
  • Plan Outdoor Activities. Fresh air and exercise are good for everyone’s mind, body and spirit. If the weather is cooperative, organize an outing for ice skating, snow-shoeing, or even just a walk around the neighborhood. If there’s snow, gather the troops for a snowman building contest. At the very least, get those who are interested out for a quick walk or a drive to view holiday lights.   

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  • Stay Confident. Our families are often our biggest critics. A family gathering may bring with it a smorgasbord of opinions and advice from aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. And they all like to put in their two cents about what you should be doing in life and with your children. In situations like this, remain confident. They don’t live your life and although you’ll listen to their advice, you don’t have to follow it.  Come prepared with a neutral response like “thanks for your opinion!” or “I'll think about that!” and then let it drop.

Don’t let the anticipation of uncomfortable conversations with family bring you down this holiday season.  Go to all of your family gatherings with a good attitude, a little perpetration, and lots of cheer!



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Navigating Uncomfortable Conversations at the Holiday Dinner Table

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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