How to have a great time at the family dinner
Welcome the holidays (No paywall)
Since it’s Thanksgiving, I feel compelled to count my blessings and all of you who support my writing adventure. Life Intelligence exists because you want to read it and I want to write it for you. It excites me to know and interact with people who love this human experience and want to “live more, love more, do more, and matter.” I am sorry it’s not all free content anymore, but have you checked grocery prices lately? I can’t write without eating. If I figure out how to live without eating, I’ll be more famous and successful than Ozempic.
But this post is free – the second one this month, because I feel Spirit overtake me… Amen! Nah, I just appreciate you guys. No spirits necessary 😉
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Holidays happen every year! Yet, despite the annual practice, most people experience mixed emotions about them. Family dynamics seem predictable and inevitable to most. It’s like every turkey comes with sides of crazy, nagging, passive-aggressive, grumpy, and “I told you so.” I’ve got a recipe for a better time this time. You’re welcome.
A study found that people who believed to be inferior perceived interactions with others validating that inferiority. It was done in a “job interview” setting, where the participants received a fake scar on their faces and were told to monitor how the interviewer treated them. Everyone reported negative interactions because of the scar. What they did not know was that, just before they went in for the interview, the makeup artist, under the pretext of fixing the makeup, had actually removed the scar. The interviewers did not know the purpose of the study. They were told to simply evaluate the candidate on specific job qualifications.
And there you have it. Whatever problems, shortcomings, and issues you think you have, you also think everyone else judges you for them. They may not even be aware of what you think about yourself, or may not care. But you will treat them as if they do know and interpret negativity where there might just be ignorance, stupidity, or something completely unrelated and possibly not even negative. This is similar to what psychologists call “projection,” where we literally project onto others something originating within ourselves. We interpret other people’s behavior from our knowledge base, personal experiences, conflicts, beliefs, and self-criticism. Kind of like holding a mirror to someone’s face but the mirror faces us instead of them. So, we only see ourselves in the mirror.
Convoluted? Yep. Try convincing someone that’s what they are doing! Hahaha. You get a lot of push-back, anger, and rationalizations. Very few people go, “Hey, wait! You’re telling me that Grandpa’s grumpy comments shouldn’t ruin my time because they have nothing to do with me?” Yep, that’s what I am telling you. Your grandpa is grumpy because he’s old, gets tired easily, doesn’t understand this new world and the choices people make in it, and misses all his grandkids. He’s possibly lonely and feels left out. You may get triggered by his grumpiness, interpreting it as criticism and judgment, because you criticize and judge yourself for putting Grandpa on the back burner, never visiting, or making questionable choices.
Now that we got this out of the way, remember to ask yourself “How do I feel about myself?” before you storm out of the dining room before dessert is served.
Also, remember that this works in both directions. The person talking to you sees in you what they don’t like in themselves, or whatever your presence invokes in them that makes them uncomfortable. They, too, perceive in you their projections. Have some compassion for the nagger, the passive-aggressive, and the downright critical around the holiday table. No need to take anything personally.
And, for a jolly good time, call on these additional tricks below:
1) Give people your undivided attention. Look at them, hug them, sit with them. No, not 100% of the time. That would be creepy. Just when they talk to you, tell you stories, ask you questions. Connect! People love to be seen, heard, and sat with! They may or may not care about your opinions, but they do love being with. So, do it. Yeah, no phone! Turn it off, unless you’re on call at the emergency room or are a first responder, you should leave that thing in your pocket on silent.
2) Be an animated listener. I love this about myself. I didn’t realize I did it until someone pointed it out to me. I nod my head and make faces a lot. My whole body participates in people’s stories. I’m like, “Oh, yea! Really? Whaaat? No way! OMG! WTF?” etc… If you are talking to me and all you get is “Uh-hu, yah, sure,” I am not paying attention. Because if I was, you’d get me, myself, and I reflecting your story back at you. You probably have friends like this and you love talking to them. Everyone else is just boring. 😊
3) Ask questions. It beats making assumptions. Listen for things you never knew before. Sometimes, you have to tease them out of people. It shouldn’t be too hard. People like talking about themselves. Just don’t ask them “What do you do for a living?” Try, “What do you love about what you do?” Instead of the judgmental, “When are you finally going to…. ?” ask “What’s something that interests/excites you lately?” Grumpy grandpa will be less grumpy if you ask him what he remembers about being your age. Watch the floodgates open!
I have a notebook full of questions I want to ask people in random situations. I am always looking for questions no matter what I am doing. I source them from reading, watching movies, while walking my dog, and eavesdropping on people’s conversations. (I didn’t just admit that, did I?) I write them down and hope I’ll think of them at the right time.
Once, I was invited as a +1 to someone’s birthday party. I only knew the person who invited me. Raise your hand if you’d feel as awkward as I did! What would you do in this situation? I’m an introvert, so I had to call my extroverted adaptive style to the rescue. I grabbed a glass and rang on it until everyone quieted down. Some 20 or so people had spontaneously organized in small clumps having competingly loud conversations while the birthday lady fussed around the table settings.
“Hi all,” I said, “It seems that I am the only person who doesn’t know the birthday girl and I am not sure who knows who in this fine company of cheerful humans. Y’all want to help me out by introducing yourselves and saying how you met her, and one story you’ll never forget about her.”
Well, that took like a lot of time. People sat down at the table and went around as asked, telling stories. Occasionally the stories bumped into each other and meandered around the table. The birthday lady kept blushing, laughing, saying, “NO, DON’T tell that one…” A few tears and hugs later, the food was gone, and so was the cake, but the smiles remained on people’s faces.
By the way, this is a good strategy to keep people off politics, too.
4) Check your expectations. Do you expect that some people will be obnoxious, cranky, demanding, entitled, moralizing, criticizing, etc? You often get what you expect from people’s behavior. It’s called the Pygmalion Effect or the observer-expectancy effect. It happens because unconsciously we modify our behavior to match our expectations altering reality and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, don’t blame them for behaving according to your expectations! I get it. Once you “know” that someone is stupid, they can only do stupid things, right? Exactly.
5) Carry earplugs. If everything else fails, you can always shut your ears. Not kidding. You’re not the Magical Family Lovefest Fairy. You’re just you and responsible for your actions and reactions. If the noise gets to be too much, you may consider taking a walk, a loooong bathroom break, or sitting in the corner and observing everyone with a big smile on your face like you love everything about your nutty family (with earplugs in your years). I call it TTT time - “The Ten-min Timeout!” Make sure no one notices! If they do, you’ve got a lot more coming than you’d like to deal with.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Save this post and read it again before Christmas. The same rules apply.
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