CONCERNS about family tension at the Thanksgiving table are commonly expressed in my office…..And the celebration so close on the heels of a tension filled election add to the complexity and worry.
So first, how did you do? If you maintained your “cool” when disagreements threatened to bubble up, good for you! That is probably a sign of your maturity and ability to reflect on what’s important. If you had a tension filled family time and ate and drank too much and have many regrets the days following the holiday, it’s truly time to reflect on what is going on with so many people all across the country.
Whether your side won or lost the election, the tension, and frankly, the ugliness spewed on every form of social media, is damaging to all of us. So if you want your country to work…..and you want your relationships with family and friends and colleagues to stay on track, consider some of these suggestions/thoughts.
– Listen with intention to genuinely hear the other person. Here’s the technique: listen carefully enough that you can paraphrase back to the speaker everything she/he said. It’s hard! And the exercise of listening that intently might tell you a great deal about yourself: 1- that you don’t actually listen as well as you might think; 2-that you are busy thinking about what you want to say BEFORE the person has stopped talking; 3-that your intent is to disagree vs understand a wildly different position/opinion; 4- that you want to be RIGHT!
-If you are acknowledging even one or two of these behaviors, you are destined to be stuck in an argument vs a discussion! And most arguments about politics, especially right now, have a tendency to escalate quickly. So examine your intentions with your mother/father/sibling/cousin/
great aunt Tilly at any time….not just around holiday gatherings.
-Try a few conversation techniques like these: “You might be right about that.” You don’t have to MEAN that statement. But it will slow the conversation/argument down and it will make YOU reflect on the possibility that the statement is true, at least for the person you are talking with. Further, the more you genuinely listen to an opposing position, the more likely you will actually find a point of connection and agreement. Try: “Tell me more about that” or “I’d like to hear what makes you so confident about your belief.”
-Watch for the thoughts circling in your head as you talk/listen. See if you can avoid thought distortions like these– “You are truly crazy” “Our world is coming to an end with this person in the government” …. “I know I’m right that you are a complete idiot.” There are countless ways to end up in arguments once distortions swirl in your brain….and ones like you are reading can easily come right out your mouth! (Look for another post on thought distortions and perhaps explore my book: WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? MAYBE NOT THAT MUCH!”)
-Do some reading on communication techniques that direct you to talking across differences; finding points of conversation that you can agree on and do joint problem solving… 1)Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg 2) Crucial Conversations by Patterson, et.al are great starting points.
Finally focus on this thought: If we want our country to work, if we want our relationships to feel connected and genuine, it is time to dialogue across differences. It’s actually essential. I think and hope each of us can contribute to that goal. There is much to be done to make our systems, organizations, relationships work …. and the best starting point for most of us is self examination: Do I want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
If you are truly suffering from conflicts and differences in your relationships it might be time for some real introspection and possibly for some conversation with someone you trust. Whether that’s a truly understanding friend, a minister, a psychologist, try talking to someone. You deserve to feel healthy AND connected.