Thanksgiving Dinner: Will There Be Feasting or Feuding?

Family visiting around Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving Dinner: Will There Be Feasting or Feuding?

Have you ever noticed that family conflict seems to surface more around the Holidays than at any other time of year? For many families, Thanksgiving is a time to gather together, share a meal and renew family ties. Unfortunately for others, it’s an opportunity to get together and resume the family feud.

Don’t wait until conflict rears its head at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Practice discussing your differences and learn to better manage conflict all year round using some of these approaches.

  1. Stay in the present. Families have long shared histories. Don’t bring up past conflicts that have no bearing on a current issue. Stay in the “here and now,” instead of dwelling on the “there and then.”
  2. Examine your assumptions. Too often, we react to situations without having all the facts. Before you draw a conclusion, consider your assumptions and where they came from. Do you have all the facts? Are you reading hidden meaning into an innocent remark? Take a step back and ask more questions to understand the situation before you react.
  3. Deal with differences directly. Any two healthy people should be able to resolve disagreements between them directly. When you seek out a third party to act as a go-between, the odds of miscommunication increase greatly. Drawing others into a conflict also can erode trust and breed deeper conflict.
  4. Deal with differences immediately. When conflicts arise, deal with them as close to the actual event as possible. Don’t store up grievances so that you can launch a bigger attack later on. A time-tested principle is, “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath.”
  5. Separate the situation from the person. Sometimes, our natural reaction when we’re angry or hurt is to attack the other person. Anger is a natural human emotion – just be sure you express it appropriately. Focus your energy on the situation or problem, not on the person or personal characteristics. It’s a more effective and quicker way to resolve the conflict.
  6. Take responsibility for your part. Few, if any, problems are created solely by one person. Before assigning blame, ask yourself what you contributed to the problem. Own up to your part in co-creating the conflict. Be willing to admit that you might not be right.

If you’re concerned that the dining room may become a battleground, be sure to communicate your needs and desires for the Holiday well beforehand. Create strong boundaries by letting family members know that certain topics are off limits. If they forget or choose to ignore those boundaries, then it’s up to you to remind them, firmly and respectfully, that they’re out of bounds.

Guidelines like these can prevent conflict from escalating at the dinner table on Thursday, or on Monday morning back at the family business. Exercised regularly, these practices will bring your family members closer together, instead of driving them apart.