Listening at Thanksgiving (or any time)

By Tom Horvath, PhD

The Thanksgiving dinner table will provide many opportunities for conversation, and perhaps nearly as many opportunities for disagreements and fights. That level of tension can easily motivate us to overuse substances! Let’s look at some ways to prevent the tension from getting that high.

Tips for Listening at Thanksgiving

  • image of a thanksgiving holiday table spread to conceptualize the idea of listening at thanksgivingIs it essential that you provide your opinion? If you are talking with someone whose opinion (based on your experience with them) is unlikely to be open to examination, stating your different opinion will likely not lead to a meaningful conversation, and could lead to a fight. Instead, you could say “You have very strong feelings on this subject.”
  • If someone holds forth at length (and perhaps in a way you have already listened to before), one option for making the conversation more meaningful is to ask, “What have you experienced that leads you to this perspective?” Keep following up with questions that ask for the foundation of their opinions. People love to be listened to, and they become less argumentative.
  • Remember that every idea has a kernel of truth. That kernel may have been blown out of proportion (e.g., describing a lightning bug as if it were lightning), but the kernel itself can be acknowledged. “Yes, I agree, you saw a sudden and unexpected light, and it startled you.” Sometimes people will reduce their exaggerations when they realize their kernel of truth has been heard.
  • Remember that your goal in these conversations can be to have a non-problematic time (even an enjoyable one). You do not need to consider these conversations as arguments to be won, or opportunities to expound on your own perspective (unless others are truly interested in it).
  • If prompted to provide your different opinion, you could defer by saying “I see some of the points you are making, and I want to think about them. It’s possible my opinions will change, but I need some time to think about them.”
  • What will you want to remember about the day? You could play into having a painful conversation or be proud of yourself for having diverted one.

If the most important aspect of life for most of us is our relationships, then Thanksgiving for many people is an important ritual of connection. We can expect to disagree with almost everyone at some point! With some care those disagreements do not need to blow up into arguments.

Whether it’s listening at Thanksgiving, or improving other skills in recovery, our individual therapy services can give you the guidance you need for those tough interactions. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.