4 ways to survive talking about Trump during Thanksgiving dinner

No matter who you voted for, know yourself and know your family.

Klimt / Flickr
MJ Slaby

Excited for the turkey and pumpkin pie but *dreading* having to talk to your family about the presidential election between mouthfuls of corn and mashed potatoes?

At an emergency anti-Trump meeting in East Liberty the day after the election, organizers reminded the crowd that those who voted for president-elect aren’t far away. They are friends and family members.

And speakers urged the crowd to talk to that uncle who always says something awkward and others with opposing views, to listen to them and come together.

But how exactly do you do that, especially if you’re outnumbered by family members?

When the people you love and look up to voted a different way or have an opposing opinion, it can feel personal, said Sarah Pedersen, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

With Thanksgiving just days away, The Incline asked Pedersen and P.V. Nickell, psychiatrist system chair for psychiatry at Allegheny Health Network for advice.

Start with a game plan

Before you hop in the car — or on your drive over — take a few minutes to focus on the goal of the holiday, which is spending time with your family, Pedersen said.

You know if your family can have healthy discussions and agree to disagree or if they can’t, Pedersen and Nickell said.

You can also anticipate what your aunt or uncle will say about the election and have your reaction ready, Pedersen added.

She said to prepare for a political discussion with family members just like you’d prepare with other topics, knowing this family member likes to talk about football or this one likes to talk about music. If you’re bringing a friend or significant other, she said, prepare that person, too.

It’s also OK if you know you can’t talk about politics, Nickell said.

“We have this idea that family should be tight, but you have to recognize reality and if you’re not a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said.

Choose your words

If you want a productive conversation, be receptive, listen and ask questions to try to learn the other person’s perspective, Nickell said.

Instead of saying “why did you,” use “help me understand,” he advised.

Both Nickell and Pedersen said to remember that it’s not personal.

Avoid blanket statements like “ ‘Anyone who voted for Trump must blah blah blah or anyone who supported Clinton … ‘ ” Pedersen said. She said to talk about specific points and opinions.

Don’t forget to take deep breaths and pauses if you need them, she said. 

Oh, go easy on the alcohol, too, or you might say things you’ll regret, Nickell added.

If you’re not sure and want to try the topic

If you don’t have experience talking to your family about politics or topics that came up during the election, Nickell said, you don’t have to bring it up.

But if you want to, he said one way to ease into it is saying, “Geez, what did you think of that election?”

Or, if you know from social media that a family member has a different view, Pedersen recommended saying something like: It’s clear that we post about opposite things, but I want to hear your side.

Regardless of who started the conversation, know that you can always just be honest and end it.

It’s always good to be upfront and say, “ ‘This seems like it’s turning into an argument. Why don’t we talk about something else?’ ” Nickell said.

Pederson agreed and said it’s fine if you need to take a break to do something else.

Find another time

Thanksgiving might not be the best time to talk about politics, Pedersen said. While it’s important discourse, she said the conversations might get too emotional given the proximity of the election.

“Hopefully, Thanksgivings are healing and positive this year,” Pedersen said.

The key to a healthy conversation is that everyone has to be ready to talk, she said, adding that can be hard to do with a tableful of relatives.

So instead of bringing up politics and the election in front of everyone, Pedersen said, it might be better to have one-on-one conversations or to go outside.

Or, she said, you can say to a family member, “ ‘I really want to talk to you about this more, but I don’t want to upset Grandpa Joe. Can I call you later?’ ”