The number one rule for avoiding awkward conversations is to never go to parties. This year, Thanksgiving is off the table.
End of article.
But, but, but... you’ve already planned the menu and reserved the turkey. Which is to say that some level of awkwardness is unavoidable. Buck up! Brace yourself.
(And if, you say, there is "no" awkwardness at your Thanksgiving table, you’re either taking the “intimate route”—just you plus the loved ones and pets you spend each day with and some gently flickering tealights—or you’re too blissfully oblivious to recognize it. This is a good thing! If you cannot feel the awkwardness, the awkwardness does not exist. You’ll notice that many of the relatives or guests who initiate said discomfort—in my case, great aunts and uncles and semi-strangers who mutter about politics under their breath—are the same people who are immune to it.)
One of the loveliest parts of Thanksgiving is the anyone-is-welcome mentality that brings together big groups of strangers and relatives who might as well be. But as vibrant as a conversation between an unpredictable group can be (“Oh my gosh, we went to summer camp together!”; “Oh my gosh, we’re both passionate about wild bears in the Ecuadorian mountains!”), it can also be full of uncomfortable silences, forced laughter, intent stares at super-fascinating breadcrumbs, and an exorbitant number of bathroom runs and drink refills.
In hopes of offering some relief, we're drawing on some homegrown “wisdom,” as well as our favorite tips from experts, for avoiding (and pivoting) uncomfy conversations. (And we've also got a list of questions to wake up even the most sound-asleep "discussion.")
Step One) Surreptitiously look around you and locate someone you either know or have just met. (Don’t worry, if the person you are with is a bona fide Bore, he won’t notice your eyes wandering a bit.) Proximity is important; you are going to have to be able to reach out and shanghai this third person.
Step Two) While nodding enthusiastically to what the Bore is saying, pull this new person into your twosome. Immediately you will feel a shift, a loosening of the Bore’s hold on you.
Step Three) Introduce the sacrificial lamb to the Bore in a way that implies you are just being a good mingler by introducing two people who will probably have a lot in common.
Step Four) As soon as their eyes meet, leave immediately; you must fade out of the conversation within twenty seconds or this substitution will not work. A pleasant 'Excuse me' will also serve as an alternative to a silent fade-out.
Infinitely better than vague "How are you?" or "How's life?," these questions offer more direction without putting your talking buddy on the spot. (Ease into them: Best not to overwhelm someone with a "Tell me your hopes and dreams and the values you hold dearest to your heart" before finding out what they do for a living or where they live.)
Early in the conversation:
And, when I'm wrapped up in asking questions, I sometimes forget the even more important part: to listen to the answers. They'll naturally lead to additional questions (and the foundation of "research" for next year's encounter).
Plus, once I get the conversational ball rolling, maybe I won't want the interaction—or the party—to end? On Thanksgiving, anything is possible.
When you find yourself in an awkward conversation, what do you do? Tell us in the comments below!