Thomas Duncan Hall, Inc.

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Avoiding Thanksgiving conversation land mines

Donna Woods of Lafayette is expecting a little bit of awkwardness this year at the Thanksgiving family get-together.

Woods is going to her brother's house in Rensselaer and celebrating with his new wife and her five children.

"There's going to be four of us (from my family) and about 15 from his new family," Woods said. "We barely met them at the wedding. ... So hopefully everyone gets along."

While the holiday is focused on giving thanks -- and, depending who you talk to, eating and watching football -- it also brings many family members together for a rare visit.

This time together can be great, but only if everyone plays nice.

Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, says there are certain Thanksgiving table talk land mines that should be avoided at all costs.

Conversation stoppers include: "Are you two ever going to get married?" "When are you two going to make me a grandmother?" "Yes, I know you're a parent. But haven't you ever thought about working?" Or, "No, thanks. I gave up drinking after I saw the toll it took on you."

In addition to conversation blunders, family gathers can sometimes get ugly if a long-time relationship strain bubbles to the surface during the celebration.

Aura Emsweller, who helps run the "Manners are Fun" program for children at Duncan Hall, said guests should try to keep the gathering cordial for the sake of their host.

"The last thing you need is an explosion," she said. "Try to keep in the forefront those things you are grateful for (in) that person. ... Make a decision that you're going to create an island of peace and harmony."

When meeting new in-laws or significant others at holiday events, Emsweller said the easiest way to start conversation is to ask questions.

"Become curious about that person. Go in thinking, 'there's something I could learn today from that person,'" she said. "Look them in the eye and listen to their answer. Nod your head and show some feedback. That will encourage the person to keep talking."

Woods will be grateful this year for those family members -- old and new -- who can make it to Thanksgiving, because some relatives are spread across the globe and can't make it.

Emsweller said Thanksgiving is one of her favorite holidays, not because of the food but because of the time with family.

"It should be about gathering with people you love and thinking about what you're grateful for," she said. "That a joy to me at the holiday."