The Church Lab Presents:

Thanksgiving Dialogue Pointers


Anxious for talk over turkey in the wake of our 2016 presidential election?

See below for our top ten pointers. As we practice gratitude together this Thursday, we wish you well in building bridges with loved ones!

1. Gauge Your Readiness. Gauge Others’ Readiness.

Remember nobody has to talk about anything you/they are not yet ready to talk about. Both parties need to feel emotionally prepared to attempt a difficult conversation. It’s a “mutual consent” situation. Try not to permanently avoid important talks. That said, sometimes it is important to say “Let’s wait and tackle this another time.”

What does “ready” mean? Mutually sharing the following:

  • Expressing a desire to have a respectful conversation.
  • Ability and commitment to listen, with an intent to understand rather than rebut
  • Placing legitimacy on one another’s feelings, regardless of the reasoning for them. It is not constructive to argue over whether or not someone “should” feel a certain way.  As such, these types of difficult conversations require the a person prepared to acknowledge the value of emotional intelligence, self-awareness and the ongoing work for all of us in these arenas.    

2. Respect the reality of paradigmatic differences.

Be aware of how strongly we each hold on to our narratives, and that others are living according to a different script than the one in your head. None of us are exceptions to this. Oftentimes, we think if the other party just had x information, or understood more facts we have read, they would either change their minds and agree with us OR we could then officially write them off as crazy. It is almost never either of those. It is a more nuanced, less convenient reality to wonder what types of narratives and life frameworks contribute to us understanding politics, religions, etc, differently. It is a more complex conversation to attempt to understand the undercurrent of worldview more completely, but it is a truer-to-life conversation you open up in doing so.

3. Beware of monoliths.

Our political system often divides us into two political identities. We do not have to live that way or treat each other as such. Most people disagree with their own candidate on a variety of serious matters. We have a common struggle in feeling forced to pick sides, and then guffawing at the possibility that others  -when forced - go in one of the only other available options. We are complex people voting on complex policies on a very limited multiple choice platform. To this end, it may help to begin the conversation by emphasizing specific common ground you share. Compliment whatever you can about the other side, as able.


4. Proximity frames our narratives. We are most deeply shaped by experience.

City. Town. Farm. Generation. How diverse your community is or isn’t. Who your friends are or aren’t. The nature and demands of your vocation. The challenges you personally face, as opposed to those that belong only on pages of news articles and not in your daily life. Try not to underestimate how profoundly our lens is shaped by the people around us, and this is not a blameworthy offense on its own. Extend awareness toward contributors to lens tensions, and find compassion for the natural gaps that creates in viewpoints. This is NOT the same as ignorance.

Being open-minded requires an uncomfortable commitment to those to the left AND the right of you.


5. It may help to know how to get started. Draw from some of The Church Lab’s jumpstart questions for post-election dialogue. Click here for those.


6.  Remind one another that it won’t get fixed today! Sign up for our mailing list (below) to get resources to use beyond Thanksgiving dinner this year.


7. Trust is everything. Discomfort is likely a good sign. Feeling safe is vital.

Accurate information is important. However, when parties abandon even basic trust, the conversation is doomed. If someone says, “I voted for x because of y,” and the response is “No you didn’t,” then we are at Trust Ground Zero and trying to build something fruitful on top of a severely damaged foundation. Abort, abort and reschedule the convo! Back up and find a time to work on basic trust before proceeding to more advanced topics.


8. Laugh together/Cute Emergencies. Take breaks.

If you have decided you are all ready to talk, remember you are allowed to take breaks. We have luck with sharing photos of cute babies in the family or googling pictures of baby animals.


9. See if you can make some mutual commitments if politics comes up.

For example, it will help to say out loud that your relationship is more important than this conversation before you even get going. Another good example would be to commit to check yourself throughout the conversation as to if you are truly listening to understand, rather than responding out of anxiety or speaking with a veil of understanding that is (if you’re honest with yourself) really seeking to prove a point to others or yourself. This is the hardest part. Fear and anxiety will be most convenient and might feel the best to you, but are not best for all parties involved.


10. Be vulnerable.

If you are getting angry, it is likely indicative of hurts and wounds underneath. If it is safe in your family to be vulnerable, if you get riled up, ask yourself out loud what you may be afraid of. There you may find a more powerful, constructive place from which to share, and others are more likely to follow that model and let down their guard about where they’re coming from personally.