This column originally ran on August 9, 2012 in Nauvoo Times. In honor of primary election season, we are reprinting it today.
I am not someone who enjoys heated political conversations, particularly when
they are started in my home by someone who is not part of my household. This
is partly because I lack interest, but more importantly because I don't enjoy the
feeling of contention it brings.
How can I ask a guest to stop bringing up politics, or at least to keep them
friendly, without offending him or making him feel unwelcome?
I sense that you would like a non-confrontational approach to this problem.
Three ideas come to mind.
1. Don't go there.
As hostess, you can steer conversation away from political topics. Start
conversations about non-political topics. And avoid any topic that might act as
a bridge to a political rant, such as farm subsidies or high-speed rail.
If you hear someone else mention such a topic, jump in with a segue, such as
"Did you ever hear about Jake's trip on a Soviet train? It was so interesting."
And then turn to Jake expectantly.
Or you can choose the one non-political aspect of what your guest just said
and ask about that. For example, if your guest says that his niece can't get in
to see her doctor anymore because of Obamacare, and you smell a rant coming
on, ask where his niece lives or what she does or if she is the same niece you
met when she visited last April.
2. The sudden interruption that you simply cannot contain.
Let's say your guest starts down a contentious path. You might say, "Oh! I just
remembered! Before I forget I have to ask you . . . ." and then ask about a
totally different topic within the person's expertise.
You could also call away your guest or his conversation partner to do
something that only he or she can do, such as opening a stubborn jar of
pickles or setting up the game of Catan everyone has been waiting to play. Be
sure to act embarrassed that you are interrupting.
3. Look politely blank. Say, "Oh." And then change the subject.
This will be difficult if you think the person's statement is absurd
-- or dead-on. But if you rebut -- or endorse -- the statement, your
interest in the subject
will be established and the conversation will gain momentum instead of
Depending on your relationship with your guest and on his personality, there is
a fourth option.
4. Disagree blandly.
When met with an outlandish statement, respond calmly. "Really? I don't think
so." Or, "Really? I read [the opposite]." Then shrug and change the subject.
You can only do this if you appear calm, slightly bored, and well informed. It
will not work if the person is intent on evangelizing.
Some people might advocate telling the person flat out that you don't want to
hear his political rants.
But this is not very gracious. It will likely create a
horrible, awkward moment for everyone, and you will look mean. There are
very few people in the world who could accomplish it without making everyone
at the gathering feel uncomfortable.
But if you must attempt it, nix the topic and not the person. The second you
feel the conversation going south, hop in with a quick laugh and say something
like, "Oh, no, no, no! Let's not talk about labor unions tonight!" It's hard to pull
off in a way that amuses instead of insults, so use great caution.
Guests, for their part, should remember the old rule against discussing politics
and religion. Unless you are 100% sure you are gathered with people who have
a similar interest in discussing politics at a similar volume, it is best to avoid