5 ways to get along this Thanksgiving – even with family members you may not like

The happiest and most successful people are those who can disagree without being disagreeable

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In a country weary from endless controversies over vaccine and mask mandates and a multitude of other political debates and disagreements, here comes Thanksgiving – a great American holiday revolving around family, food, football and gratitude.

Like a balm on a burn, it’s the perfect recipe for soothing nerves, providing perspective and calming the storms of life, right?

Maybe – but what if the convergence of family this coming week is more like a match to gasoline? 

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Recent polls confirm that Americans are deeply divided on a whole host of social, economic and political issues. We may agree there are serious problems facing the country – but we have very different ideas on how we can solve them. Perhaps the only thing most people can agree on these days is that we disagree more than ever before on more and more things.

There must be a better way. There has to be a better way!

I speak to millions of people each week on the radio and we hear from tens of thousands seeking all kinds of advice for family-related issues. It might be for a marriage on the rocks, a child running off the rails or another crisis of some kind - the common theme running through almost every problem is an inability to get along with other people.

Conversation is like playing catch with a ball. Be willing to throw multiple queries their way, even if they don’t throw it back. 

Whether at Thanksgiving or a July 4th barbeque, the happiest and most successful people are those who know how to disagree without being disagreeable. That skill is an art – it’s not a science. Sociologists today call it "emotional intelligence" – the ability to understand, use and manage our emotions in everyday interactions.

It’s an old adage that we can choose our friends but not our relatives. As a result, it’s possible you’ll find yourself on Thanksgiving sitting next to someone you’re related to but who sees the world very differently than you do. So, as you prepare to manage the turkey and the tension, here are some suggestions on ways to survive the feast without fighting.

Listen before you talk. Often, even the most agitated and hostile person just wants to be heard. Let them talk, actively listen and nod to let them know you’re hearing what they’re saying. A magical three-word phrase is, "Tell me more." It affirms them without antagonizing or agreeing with their position.

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Ask questions. Conversation is like playing catch with a ball. Be willing to throw multiple queries their way, even if they don’t throw it back. Ask about childhood memories, the person they felt closest to growing up. Ask if they have any big dream or goal for the next year. It was Dale Carnegie who famously said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." 

Show concern for the people with whom you disagree. I recently saw a T-shirt that read, "Be Kind. Everyone is fighting a battle." It’s pithy – but it’s true. The person you’re sitting next to on Thursday who irritates you may just have been given a bad health diagnosis. Or maybe his job is about to be eliminated. She might be suffering from clinical depression. Show grace and show interest.

Don’t expect perfection. If you were like me growing up, you watched a lot of television. Isn’t it interesting how every problem is always solved in 30 minutes in sitcom world? That’s not realistic, of course, but we still tend to strive for it within our own families. Lower your expectations.

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Give thanks. Almost 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul wrote, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Take a big deep breath. You may not be thrilled to be where you are in life, but consider the many blessings you still enjoy – from your family who loves you, the good health you’re experiencing and the wealth you possess permitting you to remain clothed, housed and well-fed.

By adopting these suggestions you’ll not only survive Thanksgiving with your family – but maybe even find yourself looking forward to spending more time with them at Christmas and throughout the year.

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