Thanksgiving is when many of us will be facing the people we try to avoid most of the year… our family. For a very few of us it is a time of deep conversations with loved ones, for the rest of us this is when we head for deep cover to avoid the annual argument.

Since my job is all about finding the right words, I would like to give you my personal HOCOSUTI. It is not  a Japanese term – it is a Janeism, and it stands for Holiday Conversation Survival Tips.

First tip: LESS is MORE
You were not raised by wolves even if your siblings were. Which means you are smart enough to stand on ceremony and use your most polite phrases at all times and then stop talking.

For instance, The Greeting: if they are coming to your home, you smile and sincerely say, “Glad you’re here!” If you are going to their abode say, “Thank you for having us!” and stop talking. The thoughts you have about how you have hosted the past ninety nine family events do not matter and don’t need to be vocalized.

And when you notice your brother’s new car or your sister-in-law’s new outrageous piece of jewelry pay a compliment with a smile but without bringing up the loan you gave them that has yet to be repaid. Nor do you announce that there is no way they could afford those items without illegal activity. Remember: provide the pleasantry and then stop talking.

Second tip: AVOID discussing Sex, Religion, and Politics
Oh, you know Uncle Harold is going to get three shots of Jack in him before dinner and start railing about gun control. Do not take the bait. Or when your cousin Ginny starts preaching about people living in sin, do not mention that you remember when she was testing multiplication principals with her math major college boyfriend. And if great Aunt Zelda and her beau Waldo start relaying their latest alien abduction, just smile and nod.

These are the situations where you can practice the other magic word: “Oh.” It is truly as effective as its big brothers, “Please” and “Thank You”at maintaining courtesy. While small, “Oh…” allows you to acknowledge the crazies while carefully backing out of the conversation.

Third tip: Be Interested
There will be people of various generations at your gathering. The tykes and the seniors are the least likely to be listened to. If you want to be known as the best conversationalist, ask them to tell you a story. For the little ones ask them what they think Thanksgiving is all about. You will get some interesting answers and you will be teaching them the art of conversation.

For the elders ask them to recall an outstanding Thanksgiving. It may have been the first time meeting their sweetheart’s family, the time they got snowed in, or the time the turkey wouldn’t cook. Start by saying – “Tell me about…” and they will fill in the rest. You’ll get an intriguing history lesson and a chance to see them sparkle as they tell the tale.

If you choose to share these tips with a loved one, so that they too may survive the holidays and be eternally indebted to you, use HOCOSUTI as your code word in the event you start to stray from the pleasant conversational path.  A gentle HOCOSUTI whispered nearby can be the difference between a calmly uttered “Oh.” and a wildly defensive “OH YEAH!?”

HOCOSUTI and Happy Thanksgiving!