How to Change the Subject (and Avoid Heartburn) at the Holiday Dinner Table

It’s been several weeks now since the election, and no matter which side of the aisle you’re on, you’re probably exhausted from all the election coverage, the social media blitz, and the uncomfortable situations you may have been in with colleagues, friends, and, especially, family who, to your frustration and perhaps disbelief, supported the other side! And now just as the post election frenzy is starting to wear off, another big, fat, uncomfortable situation is staring you right in the face: holiday dinner–a chance to continue the stomach churning political conversation over shrimp cocktail and holiday cookies.

But don’t fret! I’m going to give you a few tricks for avoiding discussion–and heartburn– during the holiday feast: a very simple three-step formula you can put into place for deftly changing the subject from Hillary’s emails to emailing in general… or from Trump’s political appointments to your dentist appointment. And here’s how it goes:

Part one is what I call the “slight of hand.” It’s a quick and subtle way of changing the subject without anyone really knowing it. The key is misdirection. Stop the conversation in its tracks; bring down their defenses; and don’t even let them know you’re doing it. Here are a few phrases to try out:

“Yes, I see what you mean, and… ”

“You’re right, I see what you mean, and… ”

“That’s really interesting, and… ”

“Yes! I do want to hear about this, and…”

“Yes, I’d like to talk about this at some point… and”

See the formula? Acknowledge and compliment to bring down their defenses, and, if possible, go with “and” instead of “but” as your transitional word (since “but” can also prime a defensive reaction).

The next step is the pivot. After you’ve stopped the conversation with misdirection, you have a split second to pivot – and, to do that, you need another catch phrase, something like:

“That reminds me…”

“Before I forget, I wanted to ask you… ”

“I was wondering. Could you remind me…”

“I’ve actually been wondering about…”

So, you see the trick: misdirect with agreement, acknowledgement, and then a transitional pivot to another topic. But then of course you need that other topic! That’s the final piece to seal the deal. And there are lots of options here. For example, you might bring the conversation back to an earlier topic–which works well when the uncomfortable conversation is starting to happen within an overall flow of a much longer conversation. Or you might introduce a new topic to talk about–something, ideally, that’s at least somewhat related to the original topic–but a bit less controversial. So, for example, if the conversation is about Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions to be the new attorney general, but you don’t want to “go there,” you might pick up on where Sessions is from–with something like: “That’s really interesting–and that reminds me: Jeff Sessions is from Alabama, right? I was going to ask you about your trip down South. Did you guys have a good time? ”

Of course, sometimes you might end up in emergency territory and need to bring out the big guns–and that’s where you go for the “major distraction.” You apologize and say you have to go to the bathroom (and when you come back, you start another, different conversational topic). Or you interrupt the other person (apologetically) and comment on the table manners of your young child… as a diversion, again, for switching topics (though of course throwing your poor child under the bus!).

So, as you pack your bags and steel yourself for some potentially uncomfortable conversations around the table, keep these tricks in mind. And my hope is, at the very least, it will let you enjoy the meal and take a little reprieve from political mania.


Originally posted on Inc.

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