Guy de Maupassant famously said:
Conversation is the art of never appearing a bore, of knowing how to say everything interestingly, to entertain with no matter what, to be charming with nothing at all.
His wise words have special application for dinner party conversation. Politics, money, religion, sex and health are dinner party "no-nos" for obvious reasons. These topics tend to bring out the worst in people, even typically unemotional ones, because when it comes to Obamacare and pornography everyone has an opinion.
If you cannot keep your guests away from hot button topics, you may want to consider a scientifically proven strategy for keeping the peace: use round tables. According to research, people seated at a round table - as opposed to a rectangular or square one - get along better and are less likely to bicker. Round tables in an office setting are known to enhance group dynamic and collaboration.
Rectangular or square tables do the opposite. They highlight people's need to be different and promote a self-centered attitude. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research:
Seating arrangements affect persuasion by activating fundamental needs: Circular seating highlights the need to belong, whereas angular arrangements prime the desire to be unique.
In other words, if you want to promote pleasant conversation, avoid a square or rectangular table. Need proof? Consider King Arthur. According to legend, Merlin devised the idea of a round table to promote harmony among the competitive knights. Unlike a rectangular table, a round table has no head and everyone is equal. Egos are kept in check and peace reigns.
Please keep this in mind next time you are planning a small dinner or a big wedding.