Tips for a fight-free Thanksgiving from a Midstate conflict resolution expert

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Disagreements around the Thanksgiving table are nothing new, but after a contentious election cycle, it’s easy to think they might be worse this year.

So how do you make it to dessert as a family?

At Simply Turkey and More in Harrisburg, as employees cooked and prepared full turkey dinners for people to pick up through the holiday, customers for lunch Wednesday had their own ideas.

Leah Hadian prepared for family time.

“A lot of my family is against Donald Trump,” she said, “but I respect that. I respect their opinions. So it may come up.”

“I would like to think that the only arguments that will be started are, ‘Can I have some of your stuffing or your mashed potatoes because I ran out of my own,” the shop’s general manager, John Henning, joked.

But let’s be honest. Tensions are high this year.

Short of just keeping your mouth full for the entire meal, there are some simple things you can do not only to avoid conflicts but to keep them from getting worse.

“It is tough,” Jacob Kanagy said. “It can be very tough.”

Kanagy has a masters degree in conflict resolution and works for the Neighborhood Dispute Settlement, a group that helps mediate disagreements between various parties in Midtown.

He said you shouldn’t just avoid conflict altogether because it can make things worse.

“Just allowing it to simmer under the surface,” he said, “it’s going to come out eventually.”

So he has some tips:

1. Use “I” statements.

Saying things like, “You make me feel this way” makes people defensive and can shift the focus away from the discussion at hand.

“If you switch that and you say, ‘I feel disrespected when this happens,'” Kanagy said, “it takes kind of the spotlight off of them.”

2. Practice active listening.

“A lot of times what I find in conflict is that people just aren’t listening,” Kanagy said. That’s key to keeping the peace while discussing differences.

“It’s making eye contact, it’s having a posture that is open, so your arms aren’t crossed, but your body’s open.” It not only helps the other person feel heard, it helps you listen.

3. Ask questions.

This also shows you’re listening, along with paraphrasing what the other person is saying.

“As you’re talking to somebody,” Kanagy said, “just kind of share back with them what you feel like you hear them saying.”

4. Realize we all want essentially the same things.

“We all want this country to be great and we all want it to just to thrive and flourish. But how we want that to happen may vary.”

Kanagy described the “conflict onion,” comprised of three layers. On the outside are our positions — in other words, what we say we want. The second layer is filled with our interests, what we really want. On the inside, our needs, what we simply must have.

The center of the onion is remarkably similar across family members who disagree. Find that.

5. Walk away.

“If it does escalate, you can always just walk away,” Kanagy said.

“If we can get mashed potatoes and stuffing on one plate to agree for one day,” Scott Ehrig, who describes himself as his family’s only political independent, said, “hopefully we can get the family to put the differences aside for one day as well.”

“Hopefully there will be peace in the family,” Hadian added with a laugh. She summed it all up: be respectful and love each other.

“That’s what you need,” she said. “Just love and respect and just be thankful to have each other.”

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