Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the family holiday season. You know the one with the stereotypical drunk uncle, up-tight aunt, and disengaged/entitled teenagers gathered around the table for an amazing turkey feast. When you take pause and think to yourself, how challenging family time can be.
You question why you endured traffic and maybe a plane fare to get back home for the holidays. The Thanksgiving holiday can be particularly challenging because its genesis is to feast as a family and give thanks. And maybe, for some, watch football. But basically, the emphasis of Thanksgiving is on connection and conversation.
With so many characters gathered together at the Thanksgiving table, how do you nicely converse on a host of issues that range from politics, hemlines, and legalized marijuana?
There is a reason people lament that the holidays are stressful. When you gather as a family for the holidays and there isn’t a gift opening or champagne popping distraction, there will likely be more strife and stress. The spotlight is on the family and that can be good news or bad news depending on your family.
It is normal (and should be expected) that families will disagree. Contrary to this fact, people still yearn for perfection with family gathers. One that is devoid of any conflict or strife. Especially during the holidays where we want to be like the family portrayed in Norman Rockwell’s The Thanksgiving Picture.
But, expecting this is short-sighted. The tragic misconception is that if you do disagree with your family members then your family is dysfunctional. In truth, the very opposite is true. Disagreeing is part of a functioning family.
To disagree is normal. What tests the waters of normalcy is how we consistently disagree with each other. How you tend to disagree is really what qualifies your family’s functionality. If you yell, rant and scream that isn’t healthy.
Furthermore, if you ignore issues and let them fester or talk behind someone’s back because of unresolved issues those aren’t healthy approaches either. And while we all have moments of yelling, ranting and ignoring, in general, we should be using those tools less than others.
How to Handle Holiday Disagreements
If you want to disagree nicely with your family members this Thanksgiving, here are five basic tools that might help you do so.
- Work to understand the views and feelings of others. Try to be open to the fact that even in the same family our stories and parent tapes are different. Many of our views are couched in our feelings. So try and seek an understanding of both views and feelings.
- Be willing to compromise. Don’t be so entrenched in an idea solely for the sake of it. If moved by a statement made by a family embrace it. Allow your opinions to change.
- Stay calm. There is no need to upset others with flagrant emotions or yelling. If you can’t stay calm then take a break. Speak honestly and calmly. When we have calm we are more apt to learn and listen. In the midst of chaos, we tend to retreat and shut down.
- Actively listen. Restate what you hear to ensure sure you heard it correctly. Ask clarifying questions if you did not hear it correctly. Please keep restating until you get confirmation that you do understand what the other person is saying.
- Separate the problem from the person. Calling so-and-so lazy for not clearing the table isn’t productive. Asking so-and-so to help you clear the table may work better.
Finally, agree to disagree. That is what makes families and life interesting. If we were clones, life would be boring. Settle into and embrace the unique gifts and perspective family members can bring to the table. Remember that our perception is based on our journey and even within the same family journeys are different.
So welcome the diversity of your family and enjoy your holidays on (n)ice!
Elizabeth Esrey is a private mediator and owner of Esrey Mediation, LLC. Elizabeth works with families, businesses, and communities who want to resolve conflict peacefully, privately, and effectively through collaboration. She travels all over mediating, coaching, and lecturing. www.esreymediation.com.