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holiday conversation outline

Holiday Conversation Outline

It’s time to revisit the Holiday Conversation Outline! I’ve talked about an effective outline for conversations in the past. Discussions at work usually require some sort of agreement. Many personal conversations do, as well. However, holiday discussions over a family meal rarely require agreement and an action plan to move forward. Keeping this in mind can help us create a peaceful and enjoyable holiday.

Let’s go through a holiday version of the Conversation Outline.

Opening. The opening happens when one person brings up a topic. When acting in a leadership position, we want to make sure the topic is focused and clear. Holiday openings made by anyone at the table can be a messier affair.

We can help to start the conversation in a positive way by avoiding assumptions and getting curious. If Aunt Joan says, “People with tattoos shouldn’t be allowed to get food stamps,” she is opening a conversation. Instead of disagreeing immediately and assuming what she means by that comment, we could better serve the group by getting curious.

We could ask, “Aunt Joan, what connection is there between tattoos and receiving food stamps?” Now, our nonverbals our key here. If we ask with the slightest hint of sarcasm or disapproval, all is lost! Curiosity is our guiding light. Why does she think there is a link between tattoos and food stamps? Don’t make assumptions. Ask!

Once we have a clearer picture of her objection, we have our topic of conversation.

Discover and Share. This is the most important step in a conversation. We often skip this step and move straight to positional arguing about the best thing to do.

In Discover and Share, we take time to listen fully by being completely present and listening for understanding. We pay attention to the words being said, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. We are curious about everything and ask a lot of questions.

It’s very important to be curious about both the fact and feeling parts of another person’s stance. We usually focus solely on the facts. We can get a lot further along in knowing another person if we ask about their feelings, as well. We could say to Aunt Joan, “This topic seems to make you angry. What about this makes you mad?” Many of our most closely held beliefs aren’t logical and can’t be swayed by logical arguments. Understanding a person’s feelings is the key to understanding the person.

During holiday gatherings, we can keep the sharing part to a minimum. It’s imperative that we keep in mind that we are not trying to change anyone’s mind about anything. We are listening to understand and creating positive relationships. If we manage to offer a perspective the other person hasn’t thought about, it’s a bonus – but not the goal.

The chances of changing Aunt Joan’s mind are minimal at this point. We are giving her the gift of our attention. The greatest gift that we can give is our time and attention. We like to be seen and heard but don’t often feel like we are in the spotlight of someone’s attention.

Develop Solutions. In business, we begin brainstorming once we have all the facts and feelings on the table. First, we do some divergent thinking and come up with as many solutions as possible. Then we begin to narrow our choices by deciding which ones are practical, useful, and truly help the group as a whole.

With family and friends, we can participate in this step if everyone else thinks it will be fun. Coming up with outlandish possibilities to challenges discussed can be enjoyable. It can also be a nightmare. If we start handing possible solutions to Aunt Joan, who is an argumentative person, she is likely to get defensive.

During this phase when acting as a leader, it’s important to continually ask what is best for the people involved in the decision – whether that is a couple, a team, a family, or an organization. Developing Solutions at a holiday gathering is COMPLETELY OPTIONAL.

Agree. Ignore this step entirely! Most holiday discussions at the dinner table do not require agreement. Accept that families can offer us some of the best opportunities for personal growth. We get to practice letting others be themselves without any effort on our part to change them. Remember, the chair is a chair.  One conversation with us isn’t going to transform Aunt Joan into an open-minded, empathetic person. We get to practice listening to her fully and allowing her to be who she chooses to be.

Close. If we did need to agree on how to move forward, we would now check to make sure that everyone was on board, and we would explicitly state the agreement. Since we didn’t require agreement, we don’t have anything to clarify.

However, we can close by summarizing what we learned about the other person’s feelings and perspective.

The Discover and Share step of the conversation is the most important step. Holiday gatherings give us the chance to practice being curious without the pressure of coming to an agreement. Bonus: We create a more positive relationship with friends and family. Our holiday gift to the world can be to make each person we talk with feel listened to, understood, and respected.


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