Holidays bring families from all over the country and world together. This can sometimes be recipes for awkwardness when your gun-toting, freedom loving, conservative uncle breaks bread with your gay, socialist brother. The inevitable train wreck of a conversation usually starts off fine, but quickly devolves into assumptions and criticism of values held dear. The result can be awkward silence, lingering hurt feelings, family fracturing and the unfortunate memory of “that Chistmas” living on long into the future. Avoiding these run ins during the holiday season isn’t always easy, but if you are so inclined, here are a few tips for helping your family weather the predicted storm:

Identify shared values

Odds are everyone in the family have some shared values. Maybe they are big fans of the Seattle Seahawks, enjoy the movie Elf or love your mom’s cranberry sauce. There are likely a half million safe topics you can all discuss without issue, which are premised around shared values. Whatever it is, consider these common connections before everyone arrives and try to steer the conversation towards these topics and away from more contentious things like religion, politics, etc.

Influence the influencer

Talking to a problem maker beforehand is often impossible. Either there’s no time or no interest by them to modify their behaviour. Even if there was, depending on how close your relationship is, they may not listen to you anyway. But what about a parent or partner?  Bringing another family member close to the troublemaker into your confidence regarding your plan to avoid drama is a good tactic. It allows you to apply multiple pressure points to get the dinner table conversation back on track after someone brings up how great Stephen Harper’s treatment of the media was.

Humour, the secret holiday weapon

Humour, deployed effectively, can work miracles to ease the tension for everyone. Are you the funny one in the family? Use self-deprecating humour to connect to shared values. “Speaking of blood money – it can’t be more bloody than this perfectly cooked steak that dad whipped up – that is sure bizarre that our whole family loves their steak rare. What do you think Grandpa?” Make sure your humour doesn’t attack any of the participants else you could find yourself right in the middle of the awkwardness rather than distracting from it.

If all else fails, pull the ripcord

When this happens it is a sight to behold. Sometimes the way out of a boorish and awkward conversation at the holiday dinner table is to be a straight shooter and call it at as you see it (“You know what Uncle Buck, what you just said is pretty homophobic and makes me feel uncomfortable”). It is risky gambit as it guarantees to amp up the weirdness of the evening short term by a few hundred percent. But sometimes, the long-term game of addressing an issue with a family member head on is really the only option left. Just remember, deploy this tactic carefully and thoughtfully though or woes you and your holiday cheer.

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