Fifty-five million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this week for Thanksgiving, according to AAA. You'll probably either end up at a relative's door or have relatives showing up at yours. And it will be great. Or it will be terrible. And the difference between these two options isn't food-based but rather performance-appraisal based.
Just like a bad manager who holds back on feedback for an entire year and then springs it all on you at year-end, your Aunt Joan is waiting for you.
"You're 27. Why aren't you married?"
"Did you put on a little weight?"
"Goodness, I see your little Billy is chasing the cat. You know, children whose mothers work outside the home don't get the attention they need. Do you think that's why he's doing that?"
And if you're not the one on the receiving side of these questions, you may be on the other side of the (pardon the pun) table, asking your niece about her questionable boyfriend, her college major, and did it hurt to get that nose piercing?
All of these things make people uncomfortable. And here's the thing: It's not anyone's job to conduct a family performance review at Thanksgiving. There is a time and a place for that, and it's in the therapist's office. This is not that.
If you want to tell people why you aren't married, you will. If you're going to talk about your own weight gain, you will. And if the nose piercing really hurt and your niece wants to talk about it, she'll bring it up.
Remember these things:
- You may be a manager at work, but you're not a family manager except over your own minor children.
- Everyone thought that what they are wearing was appropriate for the dinner. Unless it is your own minor child, forget it. Dress code violations are only dealt with by legal parents.
- Being in a tight spot right now, whether romantically, educationally, or career-wise, doesn't mean your relative doesn't deserve respect. Everyone goes through tough times.
- The only help you can offer is with food and cleanup. Résumés, haircuts, and tattoo removal are not things you should offer to help with. Handwashing grandma's china is much appreciated.
- If someone asks you an inappropriate question, it's OK to not answer it. "Oh, goodness, why on earth would you care what the scale says?" is a beautiful answer.
Yes, there is a time and a place to give advice to relatives and to help people with their careers, hair, and romances, but it's not in a group setting. Just like at the office: You don't give negative feedback during staff meetings--you do it one-on-one.
Focus on positive things. Bring up good news that you've heard about. Ask with a sincere desire to listen to the answer. You can offer advice as a mentor when asked, but don't volunteer it.
Have fun instead. Don't turn anyone else's holiday into something they dread. And don't let anyone else critique you and your performance.