Thanksgiving is almost here! I love looking through various menu ideas. So many delicious choices! While filling my mind with stuffing recipes and wondering which pie to bake first, I admit I’ve also been considering another item that doesn’t always make it on the menu… pleasant conversations. I don’t know about your house, but with all that time spent sitting around eating (and even during the many hours spent baking!), our Thanksgiving is usually filled with plenty of commentary on life, the universe, and politics. I’ve put together a few things for myself to make sure I don’t lose my appetite, or accidentally ruin it for others.
Large family or small, these general ideas could be helpful for any conversation.
Before any words are spoken – Get in the right mindset.
Some of you, at this point, are already wondering whether these conversations are worth it. I guarantee you, they are totally worth it. Look, you already know what you know. Aren’t you interested in finding out what you don’t know? Take the time to consider any honest questions you might have and ask them in a way that creates a safe environment. Your goal isn’t to agree with everyone. Your goal is to learn and understand.
And on that note of understanding… you’ve got to take your turn listening. In certain conversations that’s all you get to do. But listening is a powerful tool for understanding as well as helping some family members open up. You can be surprised what you learn when you listen.
As conversations get started, and even heated, keep in mind it’s hard to express well-formed ideas the first time. Most of us think out loud as we’re explaining and not everything we say makes sense. Don’t be too hard on people when they say something contradictory or a little raw. And remember, you probably don’t sound like a genius either.
Sitting through a litany of offensive opinions can be difficult, but opinions are simply a snapshot of what we think in a given moment. Thoughts and opinions are subject to change. You never know how those opinions will change over time. Take a breath, step back, and don’t be too quick to judge.
And no matter how hard you try to keep things pleasant, people are going to say silly stuff that likely hurts feelings or shows a lack of awareness. Decide ahead of time to be forgiving. We all make mistakes and say stupid things. It’s important to create a safe space where mistakes are allowed.
Rescuing appetites at the dinner table.
Full dinner table discussions can be difficult. It helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve to help reduce tension and allow for peaceful disagreement. Here are a few of the tricks I’ve learned from other savvy folks and many years of awkward conversations:
Validate where you can. If you’re constantly disagreeing or challenging what people say, it gets tiresome. Make sure to actively validate good points people make. This encourages others to do the same. For example: Someone praises a political figure you dislike. Pull a Pollyanna and think of something you can be glad about in the scenario. “Well, that person has certainly helped me get more involved! I’m glad of that!”
Draw out the silent participants. While not everyone enjoys talking equally, most people like being recognized and sought out for their opinion. It helps to include those sitting quietly, by asking what they think. This can help others take turns too and avoids allowing certain people to dominate the conversation.
Kindly put in check those who are being insensitive or heavy-handed. Most of the time people get more and more bold the more they dominate the conversation. Dominant people make abrasive and polarizing comments to gain full reign of the conversation because they have learned their approach makes shy or non-confrontational people retreat and sit silently. By making a few comments that validates another point of view, without being too mean, you can help the silent victims gain a little confidence. Others might even vocally agree with you, restoring balance to the conversation.
For your reading pleasure, here is a short sample conversation that might give you some ideas how to apply some of my lofty suggestions in real life. Some elements of this conversation may or may not have actually occurred.
A family is gathered around the Thanksgiving meal and a lively conversation starts about President Trump.
Uncle Jack: I think everyone is being way too hard on President Trump for the way he’s running the country. He’s done so much for the economy and putting America first globally. I don’t see what everyone is complaining about.
Your response if you disagree: Well, I can see that since he’s become President some things are definitely improving. That’s not necessarily going to make him everyone’s hero since there are still some things we need to work on.
Your response if you agree but want to give space for others to disagree: I completely agree. I think he’s doing a great job. Still, I can’t say I agree with everything he does and I’m sure that’s why some people have a problem with him.
Cousin Caitlin: Have a problem with him??? Uh, yeah, I do. He is mentally unstable. Pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth is offensive and now he’s trying to take away free press.
Your response if you disagree: We definitely need to make sure we protect the freedom of the press, but sometimes I feel like the press doesn’t have anyone checking up on them. I don’t mind the fact that Trump is shaking things up a bit. But you’re right. We can’t let that go too far.
Your response if you agree but want to give space for others to disagree: Totally! I can’t help feeling worried about the lasting impact Trump may have. But sometimes I think things get a little exaggerated just to keep us arguing with each other.
What do you think Grandpa?
Grandpa: I think everything is definitely exaggerated these days. Folks like to run around with their heads cut off. Doesn’t hurt to take a step back every now and then and think things through.
Aunt Lorna: Immorality is the real problem facing our society today. People think that they can just do whatever they want and avoid the consequences. They have even changed laws to make it okay to sin.
Your response if you disagree: Not everyone can be as good as you, Aunt Lorna.
Your response if you agree but want to give space for others to disagree: I think you make a good point. Sometimes problems are much deeper, but we don’t get that far when we try to talk about it. Maybe it’s important to be respectful of differences too. Not everyone is going to see things the same.
Your Brother: Exactly. I don’t think everyone should have to be forced to do things all the same way. People should be free to be who they are without worrying about judgment from others. There are so many insensitive people that have no idea the trauma they cause by their sense of “morality” (said with air quotes).
Your response, no matter what you think: True and it’s important you point that out. At the same time… Whoa!… Did you see that? It was… Uh, kinda hard to tell exactly… Oh, well. Ya missed it.
More turkey anyone?