Turn down the lights. Dim lighting can make people feel relaxed and safe, so they may be more revealing in conversations.
Circle the sofas. In the '50s, a Canadian psychiatrist noticed that patients were encouraged to interact socially when they sat facing one another instead of side by side.
Don't distance yourselves. Try putting five-and-a-half feet between seats. That gives you a comfortable amount of personal space but is close enough to let you interpret expressions or gestures.
Cushion your blows. One study showed that people are more accommodating when they sit on cushioned surfaces. My wife and I now have difficult conversations on the sofa, and we have family meetings at the breakfast table, which has padded seats.
Bruce Feiler is the author of The Secrets of Happy Families.