The Dinner Table Diplomat on Pivoting Towards Higher Ground

A dinner party, a holiday gathering, the Super Bowl… no matter what group event you’re attending, there will be excitement, conversation, jokes, laughter until someone makes the comment that sucks the air out of the room. In today’s political climate, sometimes all it takes is one off-hand comment. 

Your mind is racing. You look around the room as friends and family alike avert eye contact, anxiously awaiting what will happen next. In these moments, you fear the night may take a permanent turn away from comfort and civility.

We’ve all been there: the moment an evening takes a turn for the divisive. When a single controversial comment transforms your dinner party into a courtroom drama, the night may never recover. 

At More Perfect Union, we believe the time we spend with our loved ones is too precious for unproductive political debate. That’s why we want to arm you with a few strategies to keep in your back pocket, for any time an evening seems to be slipping away from civility.  Inspired by our Code of Conduct, these tips and tricks of the pivot will help you step in as the leader your group needs to shift the conversation toward higher ground. The tips will help you become the Dinner Table Diplomat.

The Art of the Pivot

#1: Bridge the Conversation Towards Common Ground

When you hear a divisive topic emerge, try to create a bridge towards something you have in common with the speaker. If a certain politician is being discussed, use that as a bridge to pivot towards the state that politician is from. Find out if the person you’re speaking to has taken similar trips as you and seamlessly transition towards a travel conversation.

#2. Ask for the Backstory

This is an effective way to pivot the subject of the conversation away from the divisive topic to the person asking the question. Rather than engaging with the topic, ask them where their interest came from (extra points for throwing in some flattery such as “Where did you learn so much about this topic?”). Everybody loves talking about themselves, and by taking a genuine interest in their experiences you are pivoting in a respectful way.

#3. Hit Pause

Like the football coach calling timeout to ice the kicker, you can hit pause to ice the conversation. As you begin to hear the brimming of divisive banter, call a timeout with something like, “Before we get into this topic...who wants seconds?” As the crowd is momentarily preoccupied with the new task at hand, an opportunity emerges to shift the conversation towards lighter topics. The shift will seem organic and accidental.

#4. Use the Topic as a Reminder

Rather than overtly shifting the conversation, use the topic of a ‘reminder’ of something else you wanted to bring up. Find a way to connect the conversation to the newest streaming sensation and watch as the crowd unites over newfound conversational levity. 

#5. Delay the Conversation

At the end of the day, difficult conversations are an important aspect of society, especially when conducted in the right environment. Rather than derailing a social setting, offer to resume this conversation over coffee at a later date. You can express genuine emotion about the importance of the topic and wanting to fully appreciate the other person’s point of view. This pivot gives you some time to think about the topic, and how you might approach a conversation with someone who disagrees (or agrees) with you.