Want to avoid political talks this Thanksgiving? These four strategies could help.

Despite the large amounts of caffeine being poured into cups at Michelangelo’s Coffee House, things are calm for Vint Quamme and Samual Thorson .

Quamme meditates over a model for a game he plays, painting the intricate details before going into battle. Thorson studies his book of philosophy essays, composing his own reflections on the pieces in a notebook whether he agrees with the author or not.

Both say they’re looking forward to Thanksgiving with the family, but they are both preparing for what could be contentious conversations around the dinner table.

“There’s a lot of passion on both sides and as such, it’s one of those things I try and keep my head down, especially around the holidays,” Quamme said.

“Once I get started, it’s hard to stop me sometimes which is not necessarily a good thing,” Thorson said.

With increasingly polarizing opinions, it will likely be a subject brought up sometime between the parade and pie.

Shilagh Mirgain is a senior psychologist with UW Health. She says the aggressive language and delivery being used right now on Capitol Hill can lead to a decline in civility in discussions around the dinner table.

“When you see that kind of divisive dialogue and belittling comments modeled by people in authority, it gives people some permission to do that themselves,” Mirgain said.

Mirgain has four simple strategies to consider when planning around family events and the political conversations that might cause tension this holiday season:

1. Plan ahead and set boundaries

Mirgain said people might want to consider making Thanksgiving dinner a politics-free zone and making that clear to family and friends before they arrive.

“There’s so much else to talk about, and if you are a family that likes to debate and have these political discussions, best to do it earlier in the day when alcohol is not involved,” Mirgain said.

That could involve a group effort to keep certain topics from being brought up, even by the people who want to start something at the family gathering.

“You could even get the other family members in agreement ahead of time that when Uncle Joe or Aunt Suzy brings up politics, we’re not going to go there. We’re just not going to take the bait because just because the bait’s there, we don’t have to bite on it, ” Mirgain said.

2. Focus on the meaning of the day

Mirgain suggests a common tradition to remind everyone what the holiday is all about.

“Each person can reflect on one thing they’re grateful for in this last year in their own lives or maybe that’s something a family member did for them,” Mirgain said.

3. Plan activities ahead of time

“Political discussions tend to erupt when there’s too much free time,” Mirgain explained.

Considering that, Mirgain said families should plan to do things like go to the movies, play board games or watch football. They can also have anecdotes ready to share in case the conversation starts going in an unpleasant direction.

“Or get the kids involved with showing what they’re working on at school or a project that they’ve completed,” Mirgain suggested.

4. The power of pause

The easiest way to do this, Mirgain said, is by making a joke and refocusing the conversation to something else. Sometimes, that might not be enough.

“If somebody does cross the line, they say something that’s offensive or upsetting to you, you can actually take that pause by removing yourself from the conversation,” Mirgain said. “Go to the bathroom, go wash the dishes, walk away, get outside for some fresh air.”

Mirgain also said that more often than not, the person you are debating or arguing with is not going to change their opinion.

“They’re going to believe what they believe, and they’re not going to convince one another to cross party lines. And instead, when we’re talking about those political points, we can do so from our own perspective, ” Mirgain said. “But it’s equally as important to listen to the other person with respect and knowing that it’s OK to disagree and that it’s not personal.”

Want to avoid unnecessarily contentious conversations this Thanksgiving?? Memorize @FabFarmBabe turkey facts and use these four tactics. More here: https://t.co/UUo97dPmbD pic.twitter.com/hNMOpC5F8W

— Dannika Lewis (@DannikaLewis) November 26, 2019

Get your weather forecast from people who actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.