Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Having grown up in the restaurant business I love bringing people together for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. It is a time to celebrate community and share our gratitude for our close-knit family and wonderful friends. Yet even with our mild mannered guests, conversations can get awkward. And while we don’t have “family feuds” per se, tensions can mount when we talk about such topics as politics, social issues or world affairs.
While we might agree to avoid hot button topics at Thanksgiving, it is unrealistic to completely steer clear of them. And when voices start to rise, it can be challenging to listen to others in a respectful way. The temptation may be to raise your own voice even higher to make your point or attack the idea at hand. But we know this is not the best strategy because everyone can end up feeling even more uncomfortable or silenced. So if you can’t avoid them, is there a way to constructively engage in provocative topics so everyone at the table feels respected?
Here are a few presentation skills tips that you can apply to your dinner conversations to help you keep the peace.
When someone is expressing a strong opinion:
- Maintain eye contact: You will show respect and interest when you look at the person speaking. Looking away may make you appear angry or dismissive of the person’s ideas or comments. Stay focused and give the speaker your full attention.
- Use friendly, open body language: Make sure you turn towards the speaker, sit upright and keep your hands and arms uncrossed. Leaning away from the table or crossing your arms sends a message that you are disinterested or on the defensive.
- Resist the urge to interrupt: This can be hard! But, patience and waiting your turn will benefit everyone.
- Ask follow-up questions to show your curiosity and interest. Even if you disagree, learning more about the other person’s point of view could be revealing and help the conversation progress in a constructive manner.
When it is your turn to speak:
- Know your audience. Think about who is at the table. Who will be in agreement with you and who may be argumentative? Is it important that all of your ideas are accepted at this particular dinner event? If the answer is no, let it go.
- Frame your message it in a positive way: Acknowledge the points made by other people, and then explain your point of view keeping it upbeat, clear, constructive.
- Use humor or playful banter: When tensions rise, release the pressure by making a joke, telling a funny story or teasing someone who has a good sense of humor. Have a few stories or quotes ready just in case hostilities get out of hand.
These simple tips may not completely neutralize your Thanksgiving disputes but using them may help you keep minor disagreements from becoming full blown arguments. After all, who wants a lovely Thanksgiving dinner ruined by a food fight?