"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
August 9, 2012
I'm a Non-Political Hostess
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

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?

Answer:

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 stopping.

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 the topic.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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