The holidays bring people together. A lot of people. Tensions tend to run high, and arguments turn into fights, some of which will never be recovered from. You can already feel the tension on your way to the family gathering. You feel you are about to be undressed publicly.
This situation is not unlike going into a business meeting, where you know you (and your ideas) are about to be challenged by others. The same principles that make a meeting effective will also help you get through the Thanksgiving family gathering safely. Just follow these eight rules.
1. Listen with intent.
It's easy to assume you already know what somebody is telling you. You may stop listening after the first few words. Don't. Listen through to the end. Keep an open mind. Understand what you are being told. Then answer (but not before you read the next tips).
2. Ten percent of what you hear is true, but 100 percent is true in perception.
When someone tells you something about yourself, assume that 10 percent of it is actually true. Try to discern that 10 percent. Is he or she right? Is there truth in what the person is saying? Will you be willing to admit to it?
Even though only 10 percent of what you are told is likely to be true, keep in mind that 100 percent of what you are told is true in perception. This is what the other person thinks about you. How did you create that perception? What can you do to change it?
3. Don't assume anyone is out to get you.
It's easy to think someone is. But the person might not be. Being Jewish, people ask me if wishing me "Merry Christmas" would offend me. Some non-Christians might be offended by that. I'm not. I can't think of anyone wishing another person "Merry Christmas" with the intent to offend. Don't assume someone is trying to offend you when that person gives you feedback.
4. Be comfortable taking criticism.
Think of it as something to learn from. Criticism, if provided constructively, can help you grow. When you think of it this way--you will improve. If you think of criticism as a personal attack--you will not.
5. Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't be mean when you say it.
I found this line on the wall of one of my daughter's classrooms. It needs no further explanation.
6. When hurt, don't hurt back.
Someone may hurt your feelings, unintentionally (most likely) or intentionally. Either way, don't let yourself get emotional and defensive over it. Whether it was unintentional or intentional, tell the person what you feel, but force yourself to respond constructively, and overcome your instinct to hit back.
7. Own your side of communications.
There are two sides to communications: the sender and the receiver. If the other person didn't understand what you said, could it be that you weren't clear when you said it? If the other person seemed to not explain him- or herself well, could it be that you didn't understand what the person was saying? I'm not suggesting that you are at fault either way. Just accept your part of miscommunication. Merely acknowledging that the miscommunication could have been your fault could diffuse the situation.
8. Use empathy.
Empathy is not sympathy, and it is not feeling pity for someone else. Empathy means trying to understand the circumstances of the person you are speaking with. What's going on in his or her life right now? What are the person's hot buttons? What does he or she like? What does he or she hate? When you understand that the other person has feelings too, and that they are different from yours--you may be able to understand the person better, risk offending him or her less, and be less offended by the person.
Print this article and take it with you to your family's Thanksgiving dinner. If you feel you are about to lose your temper--take three minutes and read it.