Empowered Communication: How to Do Thanksgiving Dinner without a Side of Drama

Family at the dinner table at the Thanksgiving day.

It seems like almost every year, Hollywood comes out with a movie that portrays the humor and sorrow of families coming together over the holidays.  Chances are if you are participating in a family gathering you’ll be interacting with one or more people with whom you don't see eye to eye. 

There are very artful and diplomatic ways to respond to the difficult people in your life.  

Here are a few empowered communication tips to help you enjoy a more harmonious holiday experience with friends and family. Try one or more of them next time you get into a heated discussion with someone or when someone is criticizing you.

Tip #1:  Disengage or Duck.   

In Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book on success, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he asserts, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it."  The idea is that even if you think you've won the argument, you haven't if one or both of you is left feeling negative.

Have you ever met anyone that loves to argue?  Someone who will “beat the proverbially dead horse” and go on and on until they’ve convinced you to agree their side of the argument?  When you find yourself in an uncomfortable discussion, disengage if the conversation gets heated.  This means, just observe.  Listen but say nothing.  

Moreover, don't defend yourself unless you absolutely must. 

"Many adults are like grown children. They love to argue," says Psychoanalyst, Dr. Aaron Lederer, a child specialist on defiant children and author of "Taming the Wild Child." "Certain children and adults, for that matter, will continue to argue as long as you are responding to their statements.  Because in their minds, they think that as long as the conversation continues, they have a chance to win," he explains.

He suggests that if you can't disengage, duck out.  Excuse yourself from the situation.  Make a phone call. Go walk the dog... Or the cat.

Tip #2: Agree with the TRUTH

Instead of defending, explaining or justifying, which simply hands the other person more fuel to disagree or attack, instead, agree with the person

Look for points in the conversation where you are in agreement with what he or she is saying.  When it's the truth or your truth, repeat that part back and agree truthfully. 

Here’s an example. 

Imagine, your brother in-law is complaining. He’s angry that his candidate didn’t get elected.  You can authentically commiserate, “I agree. It was a very stressful election!”  You don’t have to tell him you voted for the other candidate. 

Tip #3. Agree with the POSSIBILITY

Instead of defending yourself, your point of view and pointing out what you disagree with in their logic or assertion, agree that whatever the person is saying is possible.  Just say, “That's possible.”

Here’s how it works….

“Global warming is not really a problem.”  That’s possible.

“Kids these days.  They act so entitled.”  That’s possible.

I mean if you REALLY think about it, anything is possible!  The earth could shift on its axis tomorrow and there would be no more Thanksgivings.   It's possible.  I PROMISE this technique will avert arguments, stop the other person in their tracks and what’s more. . . . They will feel heard.

Tip #4:  Acknowledge Their Point of View

When you acknowledge another person’s point of view, you may do yourself the favor of saving time and energy.  Once the person feels heard, acknowledged or validated, they move on. 

To do this, acknowledge their point of view by saying, “That’s an interesting perspective,” or “That’s an interesting way to look at it.”   When you use this type of response, the energy you're giving the person is open instead of defensive.    You will be surprised how often that this simple statement, curtails the conversation.  

Tip #5:  Thank the Person for Caring

Use this if someone is criticizing you.  Typically, a parent or "loving relative."  To do this, listen to the critique.  Don't defend. Wait until their done and say, “That’s sweet how much care."

I know what some of you are thinking right now.  “There's no way I can say that without sounding sarcastic!"

You've got to try this one.  When you say it sincerely, you've artfully ended the conversation without agreeing or disagreeing with their criticisms.  Done. Conversation over!  

In my coaching sessions, I teach empowered communication skills for successful leadership.  Once, I was coaching a client named Nicole for some job situations and she happened to mention she had a very critical mother.  She ended up using this empowered communication with mom.  Some of you may relate to her story…. 

Nicole was at the Thanksgiving gathering with several other family members sitting around before the big meal.  It was at that precise moment that Nicole’s mother began to publicly criticize her hair color, “Is Sarah down at Tresses still doing your hair?  You know I don’t really think she’s that good.  I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while that your hair color isn’t flattering.  You really need to do something about it.” 

When Nicole’s mother stopped expressing her “motherly concern,” members in the room looked at Nicole and held their breath. 

Speaking with a smile and genuine sincerity, she replied, “Thanks mom.  That’s so sweet how much you care.”  Then, she changed the subject.  Her mother straightened up, smiled, and seemed satisfied and the conversation moved on.

Personally, I've used this one many times and it always works.  Step into your highest self. Acknowledge the other person’s point of view with sincerity.  I promise you will feel in control. You will not feel like you are giving in -- it will empower you.  Best of all, you will be perceived as more confident and powerful.

Tip #6:  Play Adele!

Here’s where my sense of humor comes in.  I give this last suggestion jokingly but if you like to laugh, check it out!  SNL did a skit about Thanksgiving conflict.  A family and their friends are sitting at the dining table and several family members begin verbally attacking each other.  Several times the heated discussions reach a peak. The little girl runs to the boom box and plays Adele.  Watch what happens!

The skit is really more than funny, it makes a very insightful observation that oftentimes what we criticize in others, we are disowning within ourselves. Watch closely and you will see how they artfully make the point!

My gratitude towards each of you is that you took the time to read my advice.  Thank you!  I hope each of you have a great holiday season! Don’t take anything personally! And remember to smile!