Thanksgiving Survival Guide: 5 ways to evade conversation meltdowns!

Thanksgiving is coming! I hope you all are looking forward to this time of family togetherness and bliss as much as I am, but just in case you are not here are some tried and true ways to avoid World War III at your family table.

1. Ask a question that leads to a more positive tone.
When your loved one is ranting about what they hate, why not ask a question that nudges them toward their hopes and dreams. Here are just a few examples.
“What do you hope for?”
“How do you see that unfolding?”
“How can we work toward that together?”

Who doesn’t like to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future? Let them keep talking, but asking these questions gives them something good to talk about. Making specific plans is also a good way to engage logical brain function when the lizard brain wants to take over. Whether they are looking forward to college, vacation, or the new world order, at least it will put a nice twinkle in their eye.

2. Change the subject altogether.
Uncle raving about politics? Auntie griping about the election? When you asked about their hopes they mentioned the destruction of an entire demographic? Here’s some topics to divert the maelstrom.
“What an amazing, miraculous World Series!”
“Do you have any recent pictures of your kids/dogs/grand-kids/cats?”
“Who made this delicious dish? You have to tell me all about the recipe!”

I don’t ever watch sports, but even I know about the Cubs and their history smashing victory! So you don’t know the players’ names or numbers or the final score, let your relative fill in the relevant details while you “ooh” and “aah.” Same goes for the precious pictures. They may be overly enthusiastic, but I bet Trump/Clinton/Obama isn’t in the frame. Oh, Junior dressed up as one of them for Halloween? On to the food, people love to gush over their special contribution to the meal.

3. Excuse yourself to go…elsewhere.
When you don’t achieve success with numbers 1 or 2, find a way to leave the room. Now is the time to:
Help cook or clean
Go to the restroom
Take a walk

Don’t you have something in the oven you need to check on? Always have something in the oven! No? Perhaps the dishes need doing. You can always go to the restroom. Yes, you can go every 15 minutes! Who cares if they think you have a virus. Maybe they’ll leave you alone if you are sick. This looks like a good time for a walk. On a day of over-indulgence whether you’ve had too much turkey, or just to make room for pie, no one will fault you for getting some fresh air.

4. Eat something! Drink something!
If you are afraid of returning fire with your words, stuff something in your mouth! Why else did we get everyone together anyway? Have a piece of pie…or three. Get up and refill your glass. Offer to get them a cup of coffee while you are up. Coffee builds bridges, and it might make you need to visit the restroom again soon, so it’s a win-win.

5. Fall asleep.
When all else fails, take a nap. Not sleepy? Pulse racing? You can always just pretend to fall asleep on the couch, or the chair, or on your plate. Trust me, cousins talking about your narcolepsy may not be pleasant, but it’s better than turning this Rockwell moment into a red-faced brawl!

BONUS! Turn on the game–no talking during football!

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Disagreeing with Grace

I’ve been pondering all of the arguing and mic-dropping going on with political tensions and with world problems like poverty, violence, and discrimination. How is it that people with so much in common cannot hold a civil conversation with one another? How do we step out of the cycle of verbal bomb-throwing and find our way back to productive communication?

I watched my sister a few weeks ago talking to someone handing out literature on the street as we were shopping. They were trying to raise awareness for their particular cause, and they had their speech and talking points all prepared in advance. I confess that if I had been alone, I would have probably avoided eye contact and walked on by. If I had been feeling particularly open, I would have offered a half-smile and kept walking. I don’t like to hear talking points. They don’t impress me, and I always assume they are heavily weighted in favor of the cause being promoted.

My sister is awesome, though, and she stopped to talk with the person. When she heard the cause being promoted she asked about the sponsoring agency, she found a point of common interest, and she asked about the specific goal of this person on the street that day. They were looking for donations, and instead of making a commitment to donate right there, my sister asked for the online donation options and how to find more information about the organization sponsoring the fund drive. It took less than 3 minutes and it gave the person advocating the opportunity to share about their cause and allowed us to walk away without feeling obligated or shamed into supporting something we didn’t know much about.

I walked away from that encounter in awe of my sister’s ability to handle a potentially uncomfortable interaction in a way that everyone could feel good about. (Once again, I want to be my big sister when I grow up.)

I’ve spent the past several weeks pondering how I can interact with others in a similar way, whether I agree with them or not, whether I feel like the other person has an agenda, or even when I am the one with an agenda who wants to be heard. I think I’ve come up with some basic principles that can help.

Giving them the right to be heard. Allowing others to speak their minds gives us the ability to gauge whether they would be open to hearing our point of view. At times, stating our case when others are not open to listening falls into the category of casting our pearls before swine. If the person we are in conversation with cannot hear another perspective, anything we say, no matter how beautifully phrased, is going to sound like an attack to them. If they don’t know the value of our pearls, it feels exactly like someone throwing rocks.

We can begin by reframing our expectations based on what the other person is able to give. When we walk into a conversation,we have to recognize that we may not be in the same place as our conversation partner in our emotions, our understanding of the topic, or desire to find a solution.

Using words that frame our thoughts, that state our position, without attacking the other person offers our perspective without putting them on the defensive. Talking about what I am for does not have to include any discussion of others who do not agree. Try it out, can you talk about your passion or are you simply arguing against the passions of others?

Acceptance does not mean agreeing all the time. Acceptance means embracing those we are in relationship with in spite of disagreement. I can accept your good motivation, and assume the best about you and your cause even if I do not join in promoting it.

If you are as tired as I am of all the arguing and tension, why not add a little grace by listening, seeking understanding, offering mercy and love in spite of disagreement?

That could be very ReFreshing!