Here’s how to handle difficult in-laws and awkwardness at Thanksgiving dinner

If you’re dreading what Uncle Carl or Grandma Mildred will say to you at Thanksgiving, emotional intelligence expert Carolyn Stern has advice on how to survive the holidays.

Stern tells ABC Audio this Thanksgiving could be more awkward because the pandemic not only made people less empathetic, it affected our social skills. “As your stress goes up, your empathy goes down,” she explained. Stern also warned, “You would be surprised at what people say when they’re with family and think no topic is off limits.”

As for what topics you should definitely stay away from at the dinner table: someone’s appearance, job, marriage or political views.

The Emotionally Strong Leader author adds you can shut down potentially upsetting conversations by declaring certain topics off limits. “Let them know ahead of the time,” she urged, adding people should respect those boundaries.

Stern also recommends asking yourself what unsolicited questions or comments could be potentially triggering to you and understand why they touch a nerve. From there, she says plan how to productively respond to those touchy subjects. 

She offered an example: “If someone says, for instance, ‘It looks like you’ve gained some weight,’ you could say, ‘You know what? I actually have gained some weight and I’m really sensitive about that. So I appreciate you not bringing it up. Could you pass the turkey?'”

Another way to diffuse a situation, she said, is to redirect the conversation back onto the instigator. “You can be really kind about it … [ask] ‘What’s going on with you?'” she explained. 

Stern also said keep this advice in mind to escape unscathed from holiday gatherings: “Feelings are just that — feelings. They’re fleeting.”  

Instead of acting instinctively on them, she encourages, “Use your emotions as data to make good decisions.”  (AUDIO IS ABC 1-ON-1)