12 Tips for Talking Turkey at Thanksgiving
Polarization in our society is based on emotional charge. What if you could handle the emotional charge during the holidays in a constructive rather than destructive way? Some of these tips may surprise you, but they come from Mother Nature.
We create charge based on the meaning we assign to words. The words “healthcare” and “impeachment” are just words made up of letters. The words are like particles and we attach the meaning and the charge. If you aren’t sure what emotional charge is, say the words above, the name of a political leader you don’t like, or the name of anyone or anything you don’t like. That resistance you feel is emotional charge. Here is how to deal with it:
Accept Where We Are
You can’t get to Chicago from Atlanta by following directions from Cleveland. You have to start from where you are. Decide that this polarized place we’re in is fine. Because it’s where we are. We can decide where we go from here when we acknowledge the Here. Resisting where we are just creates struggle. We ARE in a politically charged, polarized society.
Give Thanks for Where We Are
When current structures don’t work, chaos is good. The old order needs to be broken down. Out of order comes chaos, but then comes a new order. Like a caterpillar breaking out into a butterfly, or birth, the only way out is through. We’re in the middle of the chaos that will lead to a new order. Give thanks and keep going.
Affirm It’s a Temporary Blip
Change is guaranteed. It’s up to us to determine how long we want to stay in the polarized struggle, with wasted energy and no movement. It’s up to us to decide when we don’t want the chaos anymore. It’s up to us to define the change we want. Remembering that can be liberating.
Don’t Try to Fix the Past
We can’t change the past. The shoulda woulda couldas are pointless. It might have been nice for this person to do that instead of this, but it just wasn’t so. We can’t fix the past but We CAN learn from it. We CAN decide how to do better next time. We can’t fix the past but we CAN take actions in the present to address it and create a better future.
Ask What When Why Where How. Sincerely. When you get curious it neutralizes your own charge, even if it’s just temporary. When you’re curious you can listen from a neutral position. By you being neutral it can help dissipate the charge for the other party. Hint: If you feel emotional charge you’re not being neutral. Ask another question. Listen. Deeply. Listen for understanding.
Focus on the What, Not the How
Stay away from the How until you’re sure you agree on the What. What kind of future do we want? What political climate, global environment, social atmosphere? What about health and safety and all the other stuff? For that matter, what kind of mood do you want at your holiday gathering? What would it look like, sound like, feel like?
Agree to Disagree AND Agree to Agree
Even if we agree on the future we want, we can still disagree on how to get there. It’s OK. We’re starting from different places. That Chicago/Atlanta/Cleveland thing. Just focus on the Agreeing part first.
Get Out of Either/Or Thinking on the How
The future is awfully big, we have different roles to play, and there is plenty to do. My favorite example of this is climate. I think we can agree we want a good economy AND a good climate. (Make sure not to hook into charge as you read this.) If we start here – where we are, we can move to a Balanced Energy Economy, with some people focusing on how to reduce carbon emissions through new clean technology, and some focusing on how to counteract emissions on existing technology. We need both right now. They are not in opposition; they can be separate, distinct, aligned paths to a good economy AND a good climate.
If you experience a brick wall in the person across from you, don’t keep running into it. Step back. Take a rest. Get distance and perspective. At least temporarily.
Monitor Your Words
Words have levels of charge simply by their agreed definition. “Fantastic” is more charged than “great” which is more charged than “good.” In marketing, that’s valuable but charged words can be a lightning rod at a polarized holiday table. Listen for them, and notice the emotional charge in your body meter. Monitor your words to determine whether you’re charging up rather than neutralizing the environment.
Agree on Reference Points
Back to that Chicago/Atlanta/Cleveland thing. Are you both starting with the same understandings? I know this is radical, but maybe watch news from both political perspectives together to understand how the points of references are the same or different. Remember to be curious and to disengage if needed! And focus on What we want to create for the future.
Dissipate Your Own Charge
If the other party simply won’t engage, focus on dissipating your own charge. You’re the only one you’re burning up with it! This is a whole topic of its own, but for the holidays, just disengage on the topic and talk turkey about something else.
If things go off the rails and the emotional charge gets the better of you, remind yourself about temporary blips. It happens sometimes. Use the experience to learn how to do better next time. Focus again on the holiday you want to create. Read the stuff above again and start over.
Perhaps most important of all…
Decide to have a fantastic (high positive charge!) Thanksgiving. Maybe have others at your gathering read this to help with the How. Commit your own energy to it, no matter what happens along the way. And let’s create a great future for all of us.