Cousin Fester spits stuffing crumbs as he complains that the voting was rigged, and he is going to move to another district. Aunt Fran, still wearing her campaign buttons, asks for extra pumpkin pie to celebrate how “things are finally getting back on track around here.”
Oh, the joy. [Note my lack of happy emoticons and enthusiastic under-use of exclamation points.]
If you voted, especially if you voted with a sense of conviction, November 2, 2010 was probably a day when somebody related to you voted for somebody you voted against — or would have voted against, if you shared districts.
And three weeks later, just a few days away, you will all be over at Grandma’s house for dinner, football, and trying not to talk politics.
Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? How can you plan for a peaceful holiday gathering when relatives are on opposite sides of a heated political divide?
The campaign ads have ceased. But after so much mud slinging, this year might bring some very nasty Thanksgiving dinner guests to your table.
When people discuss controversial topics like politics, it is all too easy for emotions rule over reason. In those settings, the primal part of our brains jumps to react, meltdown, and only see things in divisive, concrete rights and wrongs. “You are either for me, or against me.”
Suddenly, a conversation turns into an argument.
Meryl Runion, a communications expert and author of the new book How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations (WordStream Publishing, 2010), has some tips on sharing the table and empowering people to talk about politics in constructive ways:
• Speak respectfully
• Avoid loaded language
• Treat all conversations as a discussion between equals
• Discuss one subject at a time
• Acknowledge valid points
• Listen without countering
Runion, whose clients include the Army, FBI and Fortune 500 Companies, is quick to point out that conversational etiquette should not be mistaken for acquiescence. “You have your beliefs and you should not suppress them. However, it is important to remember that just because the other person does not agree, that does not make them evil.”
To push the point home, Runion offers up the following recipe for successful dinner dialogue: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t be mean when you say it.”
Now, pass the cornbread, please.