Navigating Holiday Conversations

We know that emotions are running high for so many reasons this year. From pandemics to politics, we need to find a way to have productive conversations when we gather safely in person or virtually throughout the holiday season.

We here at Apparatus wanted to provide you with some tips to ensure your conversations don’t just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. When you head to the Thanksgiving table (may it be on Zoom or otherwise safely distanced), here are some tips to get you through it:

Tip #1: Think about who you are going to encounter before your holiday festivities.

Taking the time to think about who will be there, what you know about them, and the values that you share -- or don’t share with each of them. This pre planning will help you avoid bringing up the wrong topic at the wrong time while passing the potatoes.


Tip #2: Keep your conversations values-focused.

No matter how hard you try, you are not going to be able to out-fact or out-debate your uncle Bill from the range. So, to ensure that you don’t end up hotter than the pumpkin pie that just came out of the oven, work to find the values that you do share with each other, rather than the ones that you will never agree on.


Tip #3: Share your personal stories.

We all have different experiences and perspectives that drive our values and ultimately our stances on policies. Think about why you hold the beliefs that you do. Where did you learn it? Who taught it to you? When in your life did you see that value in action? Our stories are the most powerful tools that we have in our tool belts, so think through yours ahead of time so that you have them sharpened and at the ready like your favorite carving knife and can use them to help others at the table understand where you are coming from.


Tip #4: Ask clarifying questions to help cut through those talking points that tend to stall conversations before they can really start.

Use questions like “Tell me why you feel that way” or “I want to understand your perspective because mine is different; what makes you think about it in that way?” to help break through that wall and get your conversations back to common values you share.

Oh, and just like a good bottle of wine, be sure to give your questions some time to breathe. Most of the time, folks have been conditioned to just parrot talking points rather than actually thinking about why it is that they personally feel the way that they do. It may take them a couple of minutes or a few different questions to get to the values that they are trying to convey.


Tip #5: Check in throughout the conversation to make sure that it is still continuing to be productive and respectful and pivot if it is not.

We all know that feeling you get in your stomach when you feel a conversation taking a negative turn (and no, it wasn’t just that second helping of green bean casserole). If you feel the conversation is starting to get away from you, try saying something like “I feel like we aren't hearing each other anymore, can we try again?" or "It seems like we have gotten off topic, let's get back to ____" to help get the conversation back on track.


Tip #6: Know that it is okay to respectfully end a conversation that isn’t productive or is harmful.

“Agreeing to disagree” does not mean that you should feel the need to continue having conversations that are painful or disrespectful. Just like there are limits to your stretchy pants, there are limits when it comes to the productiveness of a conversation. Try saying something like "I feel like we aren't showing each other the respect that we deserve anymore, so I am disengaging." or "it is clear that we aren't going to get to a place of understanding today..." to help give you the space that you need to back away from the conversation and grab another glass of bourbon or peruse the dessert table.


As we kick off the most wonderful time of the year, we at Apparatus hope that wherever and however you are celebrating this year, you all have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season!

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