Tips for Better Thanksgiving Conversations

Another message from the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation:

The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving this week, is a time of sharing and gathering, of getting together with family and friends.

Usually a wonderful time of the year, it can also be a season of discord, especially as political topics may be common in the weeks following such a uniquely contentious election.

Talk of politics and other hot topics can be tricky to navigate with family and friends – especially when we don’t see eye to eye – and it seems like the divisive election season might only make holiday conflicts harder to avoid this year.

We’re here to help! NCDD will continue to carry on our #BridgingOurDivides campaign through the holidays.

In order to help folks enter the holiday with a game plan for productive, thoughtful conversations, we at NCDD want to share some tips and resources that you can use to help keep the family dinner conversations more about genuine dialogue and understanding despite differences than heated rhetoric and emotional outbursts.

In short, here are Six Tips for Thoughtful Holiday Conversations from NCDD:

  1. Be an active listener
  2. Keep an open mind
  3. Be curious
  4. Discuss stories rather than debating facts
  5. Look for common ground
  6. Try to end on a positive note

To learn more, please read our blog post at

Join a Confab Call on what’s next post-election

NCDD is hosting a Confab Call on Tuesday, November 29th at 1pm Eastern to talk with the dialogue & deliberation community about what happens next after the election. This will be an open call for community members to share their work, and talk with one another about what is possible. Learn more and register at

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner

Next Tuesday, November 29th is #GivingTuesday, an international day of giving. NCDD relies on the support of our network to continue our work, so please contribute to #BridgingOurDivides by donating to NCDD.

Courtney Breese

Managing Director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation @ncdd @courtneybreese

5 thoughts on “Tips for Better Thanksgiving Conversations”

  1. Thanks for your comments, Adam.

    You argue that to improve society, it is important to discuss the facts of the election to avoid acquiescence and acceptance of a problematic situation.

    I agree that it is important to carefully discuss the facts in some contexts. Unfortunately, as the book Difficult Conversations teaches us, discussions supposedly about facts may be more about people’s identities than the facts raised in the conversation. Discussion about facts related to the election can easily be heard (and intended) as challenges to people’s worthiness. Thus people can hear others as saying that they are bigots or elitists etc. (or, almost as bad, that they voted for such people). These messages about identities often are implicit, extremely painful, and make it harder to have good conversations about the facts. It is possible to have constructive conversations without unintentionally demeaning others’ identities, but it requires careful effort. This can be especially hard when difficult conversations about the election are layered on top of already tense relationships.

    You write that “We must stand up for what is right when confronted by those who are wrong, not passively allow the misinformed and misguided to believe their path is righteous.” As I wrote in another comment, I believe in constructive engagement in conflict, not simply understanding and agreeing with others. So I think that you and I agree about that.

    Where we may differ is about the best way to engage in conflict. While debating the facts can be constructive in some situations, I think it can be counterproductive and that other approaches (such as the ones suggested by the National Coaltion on Deliberation and Dialogue and the Public Conversations Project mentioned above) may be more effective.

    Sometimes it can be very valuable to have vigorous discussions with friends and relatives, though large family gatherings at the holidays may not be good times for such discussions. For some families, conversations at these holiday gatherings would work well, but for others it can be counterproductive.

    In general, I think it’s better not to make broad generalizations about whether and how to have potentially emotionally-charged conversations because the circumstances vary a great deal.

    What do you think?

  2. I have to agree with Ms. Menkel-Meadow in the idea that discussing stories in lieu of facts may be a great way to avoid conflict, but a terrible way to conduct yourself around people who are supposed to be family, and issues that are of extreme importance, especially with this election cycle.
    Over the past few weeks when attempting to discuss the personal impact of this political season, the phrase which has been spoken to me the most is “just wait and see” or “give him a chance.” In my mind, not talking about the facts and just waiting to see in order to avoid conflict, is equivalent to acquiescence. And acquiescence is equivalent to acceptance.
    Indeed, there are times when avoiding political conversation may be important. However, if engaged, being an active listener, keeping an open mind, searching for common ground, and not discussing facts is not the way to create change and better our society. We must stand up for what is right when confronted by those who are wrong, not passively allow the misinformed and misguided to believe their path is righteous. I believe it is possible to be passionate, intelligent, and persuasive without being rude and ruining relationships.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Carrie.

    I agree that it is problematic to make a blanket recommendation to avoid discussing facts. One of the problems in our current situation is that there is such a wide chasm in what people believe to be accurate descriptions of reality. It would be nice if people could have good conversations about what is true or not.

    I assume that NCDD advised against debating facts recognizing that it is hard for many people to have such conversations with certain friends and relatives and that trying to do so could make things worse, not better.

    For example, a friend told me about someone who is not going to her in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving precisely because it would be too difficult given the intensely conflicting views about the election. If they did get together, I imagine that debating the facts would be like pouring gas on a fire.

    I have seen a number of stories in various outlets anticipating such difficulties, suggesting that these problems are likely to be common. That’s not surprising as people may feel it is hard to respect others who they believe voted for a bigot or a crook as revealed during the campaign.

    Thanks for pointing to the Public Conversations website. I think it is helpful to have various perspectives in our field. This website has one-page and ten-page guides that are described in a blog post, Facing the Holidays – And Each Other, by Parisa Parsa, the organization’s executive director.

  4. Do not discuss facts? But tell stories? This is exactly what has produced the know-nothing election we just had and the know very little President elect we now have. This is not a good way to avoid conflict. Public has much better protocols for really listening and learning to others. I don’t know who you are having Thanksgiving with, but my family and friends are intelligent people who discuss, debate, query and engage with facts, not just “stories” and anecdotes. Happy thanksgiving to all.

  5. This is certainly a timely post, not only with the impending (looming) holiday season, but with the tumultuous political cycle we are coming out of. Thanksgiving is perhaps the ultimate tradition that reminds us, for the rest of the year, why we squirm at the thought of discussing politics and religion in certain circles.

    Aside from the sad fact that the holiday about giving thanks is characterized as a time of hostility, it is often a day that provokes many into anxious throws in anticipation of being around family. Unfortunately for the anxiety prone, the tried and true dispute resolution method of “avoidance” is often unfeasible. Families impose certain obligations that require attendance. (The saying “you can’t pick your family” is probably why Friendsgiving has gathered so much steam…)

    This post is valuable because it sets forth a certain game plan. Listening with an open mind and keeping a positive disposition are definitely things you’d want to do if somehow you end up in a political conversation with someone whom you disagree with, just as you’d employ those skills in any other dispute resolution setting.

    I know my strategy for surviving the day, and that’s to steer clear that exact situation. Of course, as civically active citizens, it is virtuous to engage in discourse with those whom you agree and disagree. I say take a day off. Presumably, the people at this thanksgiving will be with you at a thanksgiving down the road, so why strain these relationships? There’s back-to-back-to-back football games on Thanksgiving day for a reason. Don’t miss the opportunity to relax.

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