Turkey with a Side of Civility

In anticipation of Thanksgiving tomorrow, today’s timely question comes from CLC Community member, Alex H.:

I’m especially nervous about the holidays this year.  My sister is hosting Thanksgiving and there will be about 25 of us.  I love my family, but we are not in agreement about much these days – politics, social issues, travel, etc. and our family get-togethers tend to devolve into shouting matches with people storming out in tears.  Still, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, but I don’t want to be bullied or for our time together to break down into name-calling and fights.  What advice do you have for keeping things friendly?

Alex, given the tone of discourse these days, I suspect you are not the only one feeling a touch anxious about Thanksgiving and other gatherings this year.  We all want to make sure that our interactions stay in the realm of holiday cheer and away from slinging mashed potatoes across the dinner table out of frustration!

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful “family dinner” hosted by one of my favorite organizations, American Public Square, which brings together non-likeminded people to engage in civil, fact-based discourse about controversial topics.  In addition to a lovely Thanksgiving-style meal with all the traditional fixings, the event featured a workshop on how to handle potentially tense holiday interactions from Annette Lantz-Simmons, Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution.  Here are the five tips Ms. Lantz-Simmons shared:

  1. Resolve to uphold your own and others’ dignity. Nobody wants to be made the fool.  Commit to ensuring that people leave with their pride intact, feeling as if they have been heard.  Understand that people are made to feel vulnerable when they share their points of view; help them to feel more peaceful by helping them to maintain their dignity.
  2. Move toward the conflict, seeing it as an opportunity. Rather than shy away from tough issues, try to talk through them calmly, listening to one another’s perspectives to seek understanding.  You will likely experience personal growth, a sense of creativity, improved relationships, an expanded worldview and you may even leave the conversation with more hope for the future.
  3. Focus on interests instead of positions. Positions are non-negotiable, win-lose situations.  Interests allow you to ask questions like, “What about that is important to you?” and “What is the underlying need?”  Understanding interests offers the possibility of identifying shared goals.
  4. With a non-anxious presence, show you are listening. Say things like, “I believe you feel ____________ because ____________.”  In so doing, you are validating that you are hearing the other person’s point of view without necessarily agreeing with it.
  5. Try to be curious instead of right. Let’s face it, minds are probably not going to be changed over turkey dinner.  When you are with your loved ones, try to learn instead of being protective.

Do you have lively family dynamics at your gatherings?  How have you been able to quell tensions, ensure robust discussion and keep things civil?  Your recommendations are appreciated.  Please comment at CoffeeLunchCoffee.com.  Now, time to cook for tomorrow’s family dinner…

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