Seven steps to having crucial conversations at your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners

“May your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each. “(Colossians 4: 6)

Are current events causing divisions among your family and friends? We are heading into the holiday season and we want to keep the peace. News reports and other hot topics are sure to surface at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables and perhaps while enjoying coffee and cake to top off the night.

How can we engage in these crucial conversations without slamming or blowing up? Al Kresta from Ave Maria radio reminds us that we have to look at problems from a Catholic perspective. We are also called to communicate as a Christian and we do so by being Christ-centered. Here are seven strategies to implement while engaging in critical conversations.

1. Get to grips with your language: I had a temper growing up. My dad would always tell me, “You know, Vanessa, nobody cares what you have to say if you don’t know how to say it. Many subjects today make our emotions take over us. First we have to tame our language. Begin by asking the Holy Ghost to guide the conversation. One prayer that I have been reciting for years is, “Dear Lord, give me the words you know others need to hear. I pray this before I host a radio or television program. We want to enter into a dialogue, not a monologue that could lead to an argument. Also read the scriptures daily. Knowing the truth in the scriptures will help you enter into these conversations with peace, charity, and love.

2. Seek to understand: We must first try to meet people where they are in their journey of faith. If we really want unity in our families and in this country, we must first try to understand the other person. How did our friends or family come to believe what they believe today? Each person has a story to tell. Try to understand the person’s background by asking their story.

3. Ask questions: You start to understand someone by asking questions. I regularly have question-driven conversations with my coaching clients. This is how I help people fill in the gaps, achieve their goals, and experience those “epiphany” moments. So, when you engage in these hot topic conversations, seek to understand the other person by asking questions such as: What led you to this conclusion? How do you come to this understanding? What are your biggest concerns?

4. Share data: Doing research is essential so that we can really understand what is going on. Read the research, talk to the experts, and share what you’ve learned with others. Often times when I talk to someone about abortion, for example, the first thing the person will mention to me is the victims of rape and incest. This point is a good place to start, as you can share data on how this group of women attributes a small percentage of abortions today. It has been reported that only 1% of women get an abortion because they got pregnant as a result of rape, and less than 0.5% do so because of incest, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This is important data and it can contribute to a fruitful conversation.

5. Tell a story: Share a personal experience concerning the topic under study. People often remember the story before they remember the point you raised or the story helps them remember the point. Share a story about yourself, or maybe someone you know that relates to the conversation. We need to start personalizing these issues so that we can relate to each other better.

6. Create a safe space: People want to feel comfortable and secure in sharing their thoughts and beliefs. We need to find common ground. Remember, we don’t want people to stick together or explode. We continue to ask questions, share data and tell stories to keep the conversation going. Create a welcoming environment. We do this by neither judging nor attacking the other person. Listen first, then share the truth in the scriptures, the facts, and your story.

7. Encourage follow-up: We can’t share what we don’t have, and we can’t make real decisions without the right information. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and understand the teachings of the Church on these issues. Encourage people to learn more, to research, and to seek the truth. Remember to look at these questions from a Catholic point of view.


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