Americans host holiday dinners, including Thanksgiving. They pay a lot of attention to what is served and how it looks. Is anyone setting the table to have a great conversation? The year 2012 is a great one. You can.
Which of the following menus would be your choice if you were given the option:
Menu A: Fighting for truth and virtue
- AppetizerIdentify those with negative beliefs
- Main CourseThese people are wrong!
- DessertYour good ideas can be shared by them by changing their outlook
Menu B: Enjoy yourself
- Appetizer• Improve the relationships between everyone at the table
- Main CourseUse these tips to make your meal memorable and enjoyable
- DessertGet smarter
If you’d prefer to serve Menu A, you can stop reading now, although we should note that nobody has ever served this menu and made it to dessert. But if you’d like to try Menu B, please keep reading. As co-founders of a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Americans bridge divides, we’ve been developing recipes for Menu B ever since the 2016 election, when it seemed that America could not get any more divided. Guess what? A recent survey by researchers at the University of Virginia found that 52% of Trump voters and 41% of Biden voters said that they would “favor [Blue/Red] states seceding from the union to form their own separate country.” Yes, they literally backed secession.
OpenMind was created in response to the alarming 2016 experiences. It is psychology-based and helps individuals communicate with others. OpenMind is used in more than 50k classrooms and workplaces across America. OpenMind tools are proven to reduce animosity which in turn improves communication.
To prepare for yet another holiday season in our divided country, we’ve distilled insights from behavioral science and conflict resolution to help you navigate challenging conversations. While it might be tempting to not discuss abortion or any other political conspiracy theory, this does not mean that you have to ignore controversy and politics altogether.
Get ready to win at the table
The first step in preparing memorable meals is setting the tables. Place settings, including the place setting, centerpieces, and place toppers all add to the ambience and make the dinner stand out from other meals.
A scoreboard could be placed in the middle of the table to allow your guests to track who has the best jokes during the meal. You must not focus on winning if you wish to offer Menu B. Focusing on the outcome of an argument can cause us to lose sight and miss the bigger picture. As Ben Franklin noted, “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a temporary victory – sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.” Once you let go of winning, you’ll find that the stress of a disagreement melts away. The conversation can be shifted to a different goal. WinningTo understanding.
When you are seated to begin your meal, set a goal together. A shared goal is one that has both the ability to achieve and encourage others. Both partiesWe would love to have you sign up. You might want to improve your understanding of one another, or strengthen all relationships.
If a difficult topic arises and you’re unable to identify a collaborative goal, it’s best to redirect the conversation. Try saying something like, “I’m not sure if I’m up for this conversation right now. Maybe we could come back to it another time soon?” Over the course of the conversation, remember that you always have this exit option. Likewise, if your relative is not up for discussing a topic, don’t push it. To have a successful conversation, both sides must participate.
You should establish a common goal before you start any discussion. Every time you speak, be reminded of the goal. Intentionally make decisions that will advance the discussion towards achieving your objective.
Appetizer: Get curious
Now that your mental table is properly set, you’re ready to respond if a difficult topic arises. The best way to begin a difficult conversation is to get curious about what’s driving other people’s views. This is not the time to make judgments; it’s the time to ask more questions in order to identify the values and life experiences behind those views. Let them share their stories and ensure they are heard. Asking questions with sincere interest demonstrates respect and signals to others that it’s safe to lower their defenses. Being patient in this stage is a good thing. If you listen and take time to understand them, they are more likely to do the same.
Start with a story about yourself
Once you’ve learned about the other person’s perspective, you’re ready to share your own view. It is important to approach the matter in a thoughtful way. It is common to try and counter a person’s view by attacking them with facts. But research shows that directly challenging people’s convictions often backfires. People are bound up in their core beliefs, which can lead to them feeling threatened or hostile.
If facts alone won’t work, what will? Telling a story is the best way to make your point. Your listener can feel empathy when you share your stories. By appealing to the other person’s emotions and intuitions, that person is more likely to resonate with you. While they may not agree with you, they’ll be more likely to listen to you and acknowledge that your views have at least some validity.
Dessert: Propose a “learning trade”
For the final course, you’ll want your guests to leave with a sweet taste in their mouths. You can ask anyone who had an obvious disagreement to tell you about a book they read that changed their mind. Spend some time reading what they have to say and then follow-up by sharing at least one lesson you’ve learned. Chances are they’ll be flattered, and they might even reciprocate. Those readings are unlikely to change your mind, but they’ll make you smarter and more skillful the next time you engage with that person, or with anyone who holds those beliefs.