With 24/7 access to news and an ever-growing schedule of political talk shows, the old rule that politics has no place at the dinner table has become obsolete. While most everyone has their own political view, conversation at the dinner table doesn't have to turn into a rousing free for all—unless you happen to enjoy it!
There are courteous ways to navigate the dangerous waters of a political discussion. Here are a few of my etiquette tips when table talk turns political.
1. Refrain from political party slurs. Donkeys and elephants may not get along well in close quarters for extended periods of time, but they can sit together at the same dinner table if everyone stays calm and civil. If you are invited to dine with someone who belongs to the "other" party, don't trash their candidate as you enjoy their hospitality.
2. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t be the first to introduce politics to the conversation. You have permission to go into your opinion if someone asks about your views or who you plan to vote for (another etiquette faux pas unless you are completely comfortable with your table mates). If you are caught off guard, it is perfectly acceptable to breeze past the question by saying, "I am still in the discovery stage,” or in a joking manner with a smile, "That's classified."
3. Talk politics with discretion. Ensure that good judgment prevails by avoiding political discussions in inappropriate circumstances. Baby showers, weddings, children's birthday parties and Uncle Ed’s funeral are not the correct venue for political banter.
4. Expect respect. You can have opposing viewpoints without resorting to derogatory comments. If someone in your presence becomes belligerent, respond with, "This conversation has gotten out of hand and I'm not interested in discussing it further," or "Please excuse me, the tone of this conversation is too aggressive and makes me uncomfortable." Then either excuse yourself to another conversation or another room.
5. Choose your guest list carefully. If you know you will be hosting a dinner party where the guests have strong political opinions, invite other guests that you feel will enjoy the lively debate. If you are worried about hurting other people's feelings, plan a separate dinner party where the mood will be less controversial.
6. Keep emotions out of it and keep the volume low. Remember that you are not personally running for office. It is not necessary for you to shout at other guests or run a smear campaign.
7. Be open minded when listening to other people’s views. You may actually learn something if you are thoughtfully listening.
8. If you plan to openly debate, know your facts. Resist the urge to throw out sound bites you have heard on your favorite political show without relevant information to back it up.
9. Skirt the issue. If you know that Uncle Sal always pushes his liberal views around your conservative mother—and that the two usually get into a high-volume argument—nip all political talk in the bud. "Sorry, Uncle Sal, the rule today is no politics. Tell us about your latest fishing trip."
10. Take control of the table. If you're the host and the debate is getting louder, it's your responsibility to stop the conversation. Your role as host is to make your guests comfortable. Be prepared with other topics or serve spaghetti, shellfish or other difficult-to-eat foods that will keep everyone's mouths too busy to rant.
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.dianegottsman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.