Nothing invites a debate quite like politics — especially at the holiday dinner table.
As we brace ourselves for the onslaught, we spoke to Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette expert and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, on how to navigate even the most vitriolic of political conversations.
1. Be cautious with your political chatter.
Unless you know you’re speaking with a close friend, or someone who you know shares your beliefs, it’s often best to tread carefully, and in many social settings, avoid the topic.
“Bringing up politics is like throwing a dead cat in the living room,” Schweitzer says. “You don’t know who in the living room has what political views.”
Especially with new acquaintances.
“Etiquette is about how comfortable people are in your presence,” she adds. So if you’re bringing up politics – and views that others may not agree with – chances are, those in your company might feel uneasy.
2. Set boundaries.
Nowhere is a political debate more commonplace than around the extended family dinner table – but it’s important to keep things civil.
“Have respect, don’t roll your eyes,” Schweitzer says.
And if you really need, just shut the conversation down, something you can do with anyone, from your mail carrier to your mom.
“Privacy is possible, even with family,” she says. If you want to stop the conversation, she recommends a gentle but direct approach, such as: “You and I have different views, so I think I’m going to keep my opinions to myself.”
3. Play the neutral card.
Sometimes, even when you try to stop the talk, there’s that person who just won’t drop the subject. In that case, Schweitzer says a cure-all is telling your pushy conversation partner that you don’t have anything to say, and you don’t know what your views are yet. If you say you don’t know how you feel, it’s easy enough to claim you have nothing to contribute to the conversation.
4. Distract them.
Change the subject to something the other person cares about. Asking them about something they’re passionate about besides politics will help you to end the debate without any verbal wounds, Schweitzer says.
5. If you do want to talk politics, know your space.
Of course, there are some scenarios in which discussing politics is always inappropriate: a funeral, a church service, or a job interview, to name a few.
But if you’re not in one of those obvious spots, then feel out the situation. Sense the space, and again, keep any conversation civil.
“The key to responding and engaging in political conversation, make sure it’s respectful,” she says.
6. Come in prepared.
Perhaps most importantly, if you’re going to talk politics, you should know what you’re talking about. Schweitzer recommends reading the news and staying up on current events so you’re able to back up what you’re saying with concrete facts. Not only will this help your argument, but it will help the conversation turn to a more productive one.
“Cite some research and concrete reasons as to why your views align the way they do,” she says. “That’s going to encourage more of an intellectual conversation, instead of a war of opinions.”
7. Don’t be afraid!
Talking politics can be dicey, but it’s also important for staying informed and keeping the democratic process alive.
“Conversation about politics is really vital component of democracy,” Schweitzer says. “But it’s got to be respectful.”