Nov 22, 2021 | Leadership, People

On Thanksgiving Day, most of us look forward to enjoying plenty of good food. But, plenty of good conversation? Not on the menu.

With family and friends of all generations and mixed political persuasions coming together for the holiday, avoiding conversational controversy can be tricky. Even once safe topics like the weather can quickly turn into a stormy debate. As much as 64% of Americans report that their mental stress levels rise this time of the year. But conflict mediator Priya Parker suggests that we use gatherings like Thanksgiving to connect meaningfully, take risks, and be changed by our experience.

In her 2019 TED Talk, Parker offers three steps to turning everyday get-togethers into transformative gatherings.

Step 1: Embrace a specific, bold purpose. Instead of focusing on all of the little things — menu, music, seating arrangements — focus instead on the conversation, connections, and purpose that’s bringing everyone together. Take a pause to incorporate meaning beyond the “off the rack” Thanksgiving Day goals. Ask yourself, “what is the purpose of gathering with friends and family today?” or, “who can I learn something new from today?”

Step 2: Cause good controversy. “Human connection,” says Parker, “is threatened as much by unhealthy peace as it is by unhealthy conflict.” Around the Thanksgiving table, ask people to share stories rather than opinions. Ask for stories about when their opinions changed or their paradigm shifted. Give people a way into each other to share vulnerability and connect on a human level.

Step 3: Create temporary structure using pop-up rules. These are one-time constitutions such as, whoever brings their phone to the dinner table does the dishes. Pop-up rules like this allow us to harmonize our behavior and gather across differences without having to be the same.

“At their best,” Parker suggests, “gatherings allow us to be seen for who we are and to see.” Gatherings flourish when real thought goes into them, when structure is baked in, and when a host has the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try. Read more in Parker’s book, “The Art of Gathering: Create Transformative Meetings, Events and Experiences.”

Question: What tips do you have on how to make your gatherings less routine and more meaningful?

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