10 Things to Say to Keep the Peace

From family mediator Laurie Puhn, simple phrases that will help you avoid arguments.

Photo by Michael Kelly/Stone/Getty Images

So many big arguments begin with small comments. How many times have you started a conversation on friendly terms, then wound up in some kind of dispute that you didn’t anticipate? 


In my work as a family, divorce, and small-claims mediator, I’ve seen countless offhand remarks start a fight or add fuel to an existing fire. And I have found myself in plenty of situations where I’ve wanted to give someone (my husband, a colleague) what I thought was helpful advice only to inadvertently offend him or her.


The holidays, with all their extended-family gatherings, can be a verbal minefield. You’re either dodging nosy questions from some tactless relative over dinner (“Still dieting then?”) or taking out the stress of all that extra cooking and shopping on those dearest to you (“Do I have to do everything around here?”).


It doesn’t have to be that bad. Use these 10 go-to phrases to defuse potentially volatile conversations and help you get through the coming weeks―and the months and years to follow―in harmony.


1. “Thank you for your opinion. I’ll think about it.” When you receive unsolicited advice at a family gathering, such as Aunt Sylvia’s suggestion that you change your hairstyle, just smile and respond with this casual conversation terminator. If you’re rudely asked a question like “Are you still single?” don’t reply with a lengthy excuse. Say, “Yes, and I’ll let you know if anything changes.” The goal is to be polite and end the conversation. There is no need to be defensive or rude.


2. “Is this a good time for you?” Whenever I want my husband’s full attention for a conversation and I don’t want to compete with a football game on TV, I ask this simple question. If he gives me a green light by saying yes (and turning off the game), I proceed. If he says no, I ask, “When would be a better time?” We then agree on another time and a fight is avoided. Consider using this line at work, too. Your boss and coworkers will appreciate it.