If you’re one of the nearly 40 percent of Americans who reported stress within your family over the 2016 elections, you’re probably already dreading the conversation around the Thanksgiving table this week. Sitting down with people you love can be a great opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives, share stories and celebrate achievements, but it can also be ground-zero for contentious political arguments.
So it seems important to ask, how can we disagree with our friends and families in a way that is civil and constructive, where no one leaves feeling worse, and maybe even feels better and more loved, than when they arrived?
Arthur Brooks explored that question on his podcast this July (thinking a bit ahead for those who REALLY dread the holidays), and came up with three rules for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving along with Vaile Wright of the American Psychological Association. Here at thought.buzz, we hope you’ll find them useful so that no one flips the turkey this year.
#1: Be kind.
While it may seem obvious, it’s easy to lose sight in the heat of a political argument that the person sitting across from you is both a) a person and b) someone you love. It’s easy to identify that person as nothing more than their politics, and believe that winning the argument and making them change their mind is what’s most important. Unfortunately, arguments, especially ones that devolve into insults and name-calling, never change anyone’s mind, and no one walks away feeling like a winner. But by remembering that it’s more important to be kind to the people you love than to be right, everyone can leave feeling heard, understood and appreciated, with both hearts and stomachs full.
#2: Be true to your values
When talking politics, you can prioritize your objectives, your values, or your relationships. At the Thanksgiving table, we suggest putting relationships first, values second, and objectives last (if at all). By remembering these are people you care about, you’re already on a path to more civil conversations. But when you also remember your values and the kind of person you want to be, you can remain open and compassionate even if you hear something you completely disagree with. No one wants to be so set in their ways that they leave everyone at the table, including themselves, regretting the things they said and did once dinner is over. By staying true to your values of being loving, kind, accepting and open-minded, your conversations will follow suit.
#3: You’re in charge. Choose your reaction
Remember that no matter what anyone says or does, you are in control of how you respond. So rather than getting argumentative and defensive, stay open and curious. Ask questions like “can you tell me more about why you feel that way?” rather than attacking with “You’re wrong because…” Use “I” statements that explain your point of view without insulting others. Don’t engage in name-calling. Realize that you can choose to have a discussion rather than an argument, and that in doing so, you can not only have an impact on the other person but can also have a big impact on yourself, how you’ll feel, and your relationship.
By keeping these three simple rules in mind, we hope that everyone at the table can have an enjoyable Thanksgiving and go home looking forward to seeing you again at Christmas. Happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. For those of you with long drives or who want to hear it from the man himself, check out Arthur Brooks’ podcast on this topic here.