Talk it up: Your holiday job: dinner conversation

Beware of Thanksgiving– the holiday of disaster.

It's the only holiday when everyone in the whole country gets in a car or plane at the same time. It's the only holiday where family members meet from far away places and do not mollify each other with presents. And it's the only holiday that makes people a wreck at the workplace.

All other work holidays are a treat because order starts to disintegrate a little before the holiday, providing a sort of bonus reprieve. For example, when Fourth of July is on a Wednesday, forget Monday and Tuesday. Those are beach days. And you can't expect U.S. workers to show up the week before Labor Day when all of Europe got the whole month of August off.

But Thanksgiving is something else. Unless you're in customer service, your job takes a hiatus between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is not an official hiatus– everyone still shows up for work as if they care.

And in fact, some people do care– but not enough to accomplish anything. This makes for a completely frantic three days before Thanksgiving. The real cause of Thanksgiving disaster is a short fuse from a tough week.

You can avoid a lot of that disaster by not bringing work stress to the turkey table. This is not something you can will. You must take action. Do yoga. Get a massage. Read a book.

Use Wednesday night to create a break between work time and vacation time. Thanksgiving is short, so if you're a person who takes four days to unwind, you'll miss the whole thing. Which is lame because when you have to answer, "Why do I work?" surely part of the answer is so that you can enjoy your family and friends.

So here you are. If you can't calm down from the stress of your job to enjoy this workweek break, then what's the point of working?

As your contribution to the Thanksgiving improvement plan, the only thing you have to do well is participate in good dinner table conversation.

That involves listening as well as talking. Fortunately, you have practiced being a good listener at work. You can't talk over your boss without getting fired, so somewhere, somehow, you have trained yourself not to interrupt people.

Use that skill at the dinner table. Surprise your little brother by letting him finish a sentence. He might be so touched that he'll say something nice about you. Besides, if you don't practice good listening in all aspects of your life, then you're likely to be lazy about it at work, too.

And one more thing about conversation: Don't ask the unemployed people at the table how their job-hunt is going. Because here's the answer: It's dreadful. If you have to talk jobs, don't make suggestions about how to get one. Really, the unemployed person has tried everything.

And even if he hasn't tried everything, he doesn't want to talk about it at Thanksgiving in front of aunts and uncles who lived through the Depression and say, "Why can't you just be a tailor?"

So do your best, but don't despair when things go poorly. Everyone needs a good "My Thanksgiving was so bad that ..." story to tell at work Monday. After all, that's the day work stops and the month-long conversation-at-the-cooler begins.