Conquering the Thanksgiving Dinner Table Talk

We are very quickly entering the season of holiday parties and family get-togethers. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the thought of having to socialize with family and friends can be an overwhelming experience for many people. Maybe you haven’t seen or spoken to your relatives since last Thanksgiving or maybe there’s an air of looming family drama that just won’t leave you alone. Whatever it may be, I am here to share with you some ways to navigate the conversation to avoid coming out feeling drained and depleted.

1. Prepare a list of Conversation Starters

Now, maybe you might not want to write out an actual list (or maybe you do!) of conversation starters, but there’s nothing wrong with perusing a list ahead of time to keep in the back of your mind for when the conversation seems like it’s taking a turn or hitting a dead end. Questions such as: What’s your favorite thanksgiving food? What’s your favorite holiday tradition? What’s your best memory over the last year? What are some New Year’s goals or resolutions? Do you like Black Friday shopping? What’s the nicest thing someone did for you this year? Having an idea of a basic list of fallback questions can lead to some great conversation as well as prevent feelings of discomfort.

2. Prepare your Elevator Speech

When I was in graduate school, I was taught a lot about creating my “elevator speech” on how to explain to people what my job is and what it is exactly I do. An elevator speech is exactly as it sounds—a 2-3-minute blurb that you can have with someone in an elevator, relaying your point in a concise and to the point manner. Now, I am not saying to prepare an elevator speech for every topic you plan to talk about—as that would be time-consuming and unnatural. However, there is nothing wrong with creating a small blurb ahead of time for what you might say to those questions you can predict for certain you might be asked. For example, “what’s new with you?” or “how are things going with your job/family/kids/partner/ *insert topic here*?” If you take a few minutes ahead of time to come up with your answers to the predictable questions, it might save you a few moments of anxiety, trying to come up with an answer on your feet.

3. Avoid Taboo Subjects

Keep the conversation light! You may have heard this once or twice, but avoiding the topics that have the potential to build tension and create conflicting opinions is a great way to keep the conversation going and protect the feelings of everyone involved. Topics such as religion, politics or questions that pry for personal answers (i.e. when are you having kids? or when are you getting married?) are probably best to avoid during a holiday dinner. Instead, try talking about hobbies, jobs, vacations, Black Friday or Cousin Nancy’s apple pie; topics that have potential for connection and laughter.

4. Practice Gratitude as a way of responding

When you’re not sure what to say or how to respond to someone, a safe bet is responding in a way that highlights your practice of gratitude. When we respond in a way that focuses on the person instead of the details, we can prevent an accidental upset or trigger.

Focus on the person, not on the body.

Instead of: “Have you lost weight?” Say: “It’s so great to see you!” or Instead of: “You look great!” Try: “Tell me how you’ve been doing!”

Focus on the people, not the food.

Instead of: “I’m off my diet today,” Say: “This food looks amazing!” or Instead of: “Today is a cheat day!” Say: “I’m happy to spend this day with you!”

Conversating can be daunting and social anxiety has a way of exposing itself around this time of year- but you don’t have to face it alone. If you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety or feelings of depression, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors. We are here to support you and help you through this holiday season.


Jones, G. (2019, November 12). Family scripts for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving. Retrieved from https://more-love.org/2018/11/14/family-scripts-for-an-eating-disorder-friendly-thanksgiving/.


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