By Gary J. Friedman – 

Maybe the holidays are already on your mind, and you dread having to talk to Uncle Fred. He insists on directing the family conversation to topics you find uncomfortable, dull, or alienating. What can you do? You’ve never made any headway in your previous conversations with him, and you are inclined to stay away from him or divert the conversation to something more palatable. But previous attempts to do that have been unsuccessful. This year, there’s another option you might try. See if you can use our Understanding-Based Model to have a different kind of conversation with the Uncle Fred in your life as an alternative to a debate or trying to humor or ignore him.

Start by recognizing all the qualities (there must be at least one) you appreciate about Uncle Fred so that you can feel warmth for him. Then when a conversation comes up, you might say to Uncle Fred, “you know, we’ve talked about this subject before, and it always goes to the same place. I’d like to see if we can have a different kind of conversation this year, where our goal might be to see if we can better understand each other. Are you up for that?” If he says yes, then you might describe the goal of the conversation to be better understanding between each other than there was before.

This time start by identifying where the two of you might agree and where you tend to disagree, and then see if you can make some headway on that disagreement by showing what you and Fred understand about the other’s point of view. Then see if both of you can describe what you think the dispute between you might be. If Fred says yes to this process, you might each start by saying what you think the other’s view is and checking it out, correcting for inaccuracies, and then honing in on that to see what else you think the other might better understand about the other’s view.

It also might be helpful to point out that your goal is not to win the disagreement but understand it better, and you hope he might reciprocate. Anyhow, it’s not likely that this will lead to another lousy conversation, and it might even be a step in the right direction for both of you, or at least for you to know you tried.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate the Understanding-Based Model into everyday life? Join Co-Founder Gary J. Friedman on November 16 at 12:00 PM PST for Climate of Conflict: Common Ground to Constructive Conversation in an Increasingly Divided World.