Thanksgiving is here and for many of us the desire to rest and enjoy a feast is overshadowed by the fear of repeating the difficult political discussions from last yearʼs holiday season. Sure itʼs been a year, and a lot has happened, but the beliefs and fears of both sides seem to have gotten more pronounced, not less pronounced. Actually, now that this year has passed, there is much more content to fuel those difficult discussions. With the emotions running as high or higher this year there is ample justification for many to be dreading the Thanksgiving Day feast.
Letʼs stop for a moment to think this through. Do you have an uncle, cousin, sister-in-law, father-in-law, brother, etc. who you can count on to bring up a controversial topic in a very opinionated manner? Are you afraid if the conversation starts to go there, turning back will be impossible? Should you avoid them? Should you fake sick and stay home? Is there any possibility for you to enjoy this holiday? What if you had a few tricks up your sleeve that would help you survive the political table talk at dinner? Here are 8 tips that can help:
First, expect the worst. Go into the dinner without fear. Know that your uncle, sister, or whomever, should be expected to bring up that difficult topic. Expecting it will help you manage the emotions sure to be felt when the topic first comes up.
Second, listen well. Let the person talk. Let them tell you all their opinion. Let them rant. Let them get emotional. Because you expected it to happen anyway you will not feel the need to jump right in when it starts. Think of this as “not taking the bait.” Like a wise old bass who has grow to be huge because he can distinguish between real food and a lure, let those words go by without going after them right away. Avoid being reactive, instead be deliberate and choose when to speak.
Third, stick to the facts. It used to be helpful to say, stick to the facts but in todayʼs climate whenever somebody doesnʼt agree with some facts they simply call them out as fake. Itʼs sad to say, but facts seem to have become relative — at least as far as this sort of discussion goes. Even though that is likely going to be the case, calmly stating facts that you are sure of will help you stay in the discussion without getting out of control. If you are not sure of something, admit that. Do not see this admission as a sign of weakness, instead understand that admitting what you donʼt know, or arenʼt completely sure of ultimately adds credibility to your argument.
Fourth, stay calm. There is absolutely no reason to get out of control. It wonʼt feel good to you if you do and it wonʼt make your argument any more believable. Remember, there are likely going to be others around the table who are interested in what you have to say — stay calm so they can hear you. Even if there are not others around the table who agree with you, your points will be more likely to be heard if you stay calm while presenting them. Think of staying calm as a mix between not taking the bait and sticking to the facts.
Fifth, no name calling. Do not allow your discourse to become personal. Name calling, or personal attacks will not help. Ever.
Sixth, be willing to walk away. Pay attention to your internal emotional state. If you feel your level of tension rising to a point that will be uncontrollable, leave the table. Walk away. Go help in the kitchen. There will, more than likely, be ample opportunity to revisit the discussion. You will be best if you make sure you are calm again, ready to listen and stick to the facts, when you do re-engage.
Seventh, stay relational. Remember that the person you are disagreeing with is important to you — important to you and others around the table. In the end, your discussion isnʼt likely to change anything; you are not going to change the world nor even each otherʼs opinion. Keeping in mind the importance of the relationship can help you value disagreement so that even the most difficult conversation can be meaningful.
Eighth, keep your sense of humor. Not the sarcastic type of humor that often comes out in difficult discussions, sarcasm is thinly-veiled anger and often hurtful. Keep a sense of humor about that fact that you are in such a discussion. Keep a sense of humor about how ridiculous we can all be as humans — especially when we are impassioned. Expecting the conversation, while keeping a sense of humor to yourself about it will help smooth the rough edges, and help get you through those difficult holiday discussions.
As we sit down together let us remember that we are important to each other and that our common bonds are far more important than our differences. As we think about what we are thankful for let us focus on that. If we take good care, and follow these tips, we can add to the discussion without ruining the dinner. Now that would be something to be thankful for. Bon appetite!