Top 3 Tips for Surviving a Heated Family Holiday Dinner — with Grace

Holidays are always a time of intense emotion – and in this year of uber-volatile politics, passions are likely to run even higher around the family dinner table.

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Celebrate with Grace and Love
Celebrate with Grace and Love

Pistachio stuffing and candied yams may not be the only things getting heated up this holiday season. Holidays are always a time of intense emotion – and in this year of uber-volatile politics, passions are likely to run even higher around the family dinner table. There is a reason for the pretty much outdated cliché, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” Most of us are quite enamored of our own point of view in such matters. You’re sitting next to Uncle Fred who is going on and on about how he admires a political figure that you feel should be banished from public service. You brother stares in disbelief at cousin Mary’s #MeToo button on her jacket. Your boyfriend feels compelled to deliver his economic policy to everyone, eyes glazing over notwithstanding.

One thing you can count on this year—everyone will have their own point of view and it may not be the same as yours. So how do you not only “survive” a heated family dinner – how do you make it the great, loving, celebratory experience we all wish it to be?

I remember my Dad stopping us all during our family dinner political debates with one line: Okay, no more politics. And we would accede to his wishes. But really, Dad, with all due respect, there are more effective ways than abstinence. We want to talk about it. We want to give voice to our views. What if we can actually enjoy the fervorof conversations we desire to have around important issues, while maintaining the love between us?

Here are my top 3 tips

1-         Create your Intent.

Create your intent for how you would like the family experience to be — before you go.
Athletes visualize themselves winning – and it works. You can create the intent:“All our family members enjoy a fun, warm and loving time together, experiencing deep connection and appreciation for one another.”This isn’t wishful thinking. It’s what scientists call “the observer effect.” You and I have an effect on people and situations according to what we hold in our minds about them. Said simply, what you bring is what you get.

If you bring your doubts and fears and silent eye-rolls about how the dinner is going to go, you will get what you’re looking for. Instead, create a positive intent for how everyone will be with one another. I practice this regularly before every family get-together. It works! Afterwards you will think you’re some kind of magician, but the fact is the power of mind is awesome.

2-         Listen from Not-knowing.

One of the most effective ways to deeply connect with people is to listen to them from not-knowing. Listening from not-knowing means you put aside judgments and conclusions about the individual, and about what the person’s point of view is. You simply allow yourself to be open to something new, something novel. You listen as a blank slate, as if you don’t know them, as if this moment with them is fresh and new.

Listening from not-knowing is a practice that must be done as a conscious act in the momentwith awareness, because we don’t naturally listen this way. Particularly when we are with people we are close to, such as family members, we tend to listen to them as if we already know them, how they “are.” 

I’m sure you have experienced the feeling of being “judged” when you are speaking. It’s the silent “yeah, yeah, yeah … hurry up and finish so I can get my two cents in” in the background. Disconcerting to the speaker, to say the least. When a person doesn’t experience being heard, they tend to get more aggressive in their speaking. We see this easily in a young child who is speaking and being ignored. They get louder, more agitated. 

The great boon of listening from not-knowing is that you are likely to hear something new. You discover a different idea, a new possibility. You learn something you’ve never known about this person you thought you knew so well. One of the greatest gifts you can give is the gift of consciously listening from not-knowing.

3-         Appreciate the Characters.

Appreciate the people at your table as the wonderful characters in your personal movie. When you watch a movie, you see all the nuances of the character—their quirks and idiosyncrasies, their likes and dislikes, their power and their frailty, what makes them lovable and what makes them irritating. You embrace the whole of who they are. We can do this with the real people in our lives, sitting across the table from us. Appreciate each person for who they are—”the good, the bad, the ugly and the sublime.”

One thing to remember always is that regardless of differing political views or behaviors that irk you—underneath all of it is love. Even when it doesn’t appear that way, even when you find yourself stuck in your own point of view or your personal judgements, you can always return to the “perspective of all perspectives.” Whatever role or relationship a person plays in your life movie, underneath it all each one is a human being trying to make the best of their life. We are all in this together. We are, each and every one of us, beautiful spirits. We are powerful and we are sensitive. We are vulnerable.

So as you engage in conversation, heated and otherwise, during our hallowed tradition of the family holiday dinner, celebrate your connection with gratitude and grace. Keep in top of mind the most important practices to bring to one another:  compassion, love, and joy.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Dianne Collins is the creator of the QuantumThink® system of thinking and author of the 8-time award winning bestseller, Do You QuantumThink? New Thinking That Will Rock Your World. She and her partner, Alan K. Collins, consult senior executives, celebrities, and politicos in applying QuantumThink® to what’s important to them professionally, personally, globally.. Dianne appears regularly as a popular guest in the media.
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