By Debra Fine
With a divisive election just past, potential for bottled up emotions turning into heated discussions lurks at every holiday table. Politics can be conflict-ridden but even good intentioned mother-in-laws often produce conversation messes that are hard to clean up!
Thanksgiving can mean the ideal family get together or a day of awkward moments, uncomfortable silences and eruptions of family feuds. Here are my Top 10 Conversation Landmines to avoid:
1. “What’s the name of that woman who came in second on American Idol last season?” Uncle Ted asks. Suddenly, the Blackberrys fly out, and the conversation grinds to a clumsy halt while your cousin Googles the answer. Say hello to the new conversation killer: smartphones. Avoid technology at the dinner table (yes, you can wait to learn!).
2. “Were your twins natural?” or “Do you plan on breastfeeding?” Only at Octo-mom’s Thanksgiving table would these topics be up for discussion.
3. “I knew your candidate did not stand a chance, what do you have to say for yourself now?” Stop gloating, there are plenty of people eating turkey after the election, no need to rub it in. No weaving in witches or tea bags either. We are all in this together. Get out of these heated conversations by offering: “I guess we just do not see eye to eye” and change the topic!
4. “Are you two ever going to get married?” Most of us mothers (I am guilty as charged!) along with the rest of the planet presume that long time dating results in marriage. It ain’t necessarily so! As life’s journey progresses, “When are you two going to make me a grandmother?” is enticing. Back off! If they wanted you to know their intimate intentions, they would be sure to send you a memo.
5. “No, thanks. I gave up drinking after I saw the toll it took on you.” This is meant to deliberately point a finger. If you must address someone’s over indulgence, do it in private! And making someone feel bad about him- or herself does not typically motivate better behavior.
6. “Cool Whip is interesting. Did you ever think of serving the real stuff instead?” Who asked for your opinion? This is the “advisor” at his/her worst. Don’t offer advice unless solicited. That includes telling the upcoming college graduate how to go about job hunting or offering unwelcome tips on how to get through child birth.
7. “Aren’t you full yet?” or “Why aren’t you eating anything?” Leave us alone about what we eat or don’t eat and worry about what you put in your own mouth. Just because eating at the holiday dinner table is a marathon of gorging for some, for others it may be an Olympic feat of discipline. Also, just because you slaved over the pumpkin pie or prepared grandma’s traditional stuffing does not mean we are required to consume it. Eating is a personal decision!
8. “You were too good for her.” This is letting your son know that he has really bad taste. And what will you do, mom, if they patch up their relationship and get back together? Instead offer how sure you are that because he is such a prize he will find exactly what he wants.
9. “I see you still can’t be bothered with ironing a shirt.” Leave her alone. Her priorities are not the same as yours. As mom used to say…if you cannot find something good to say, don’t say anything at all.
10. “Did you cook this yourself, or did you just thaw it out?” You may be asking because you sincerely wish to know how you can create this dish yourself, but you are putting the host/hostess on the spot. Instead ask for the recipe after the meal. If it was not homemade he or she either will let you know, or will perhaps be coy and say that the recipe is a family tradition that is not shared outside the family!
Debra Fine is the author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression” (Hyperion Books). Visit her online at www.DebraFine.com
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