Thanksgiving is almost here, and while it’s a time to be thankful and celebrate with loved ones and family, it’s also a time to take a well-deserved break. But as professional communicators who are never really off the clock, it’s helpful to draw upon the skills and strategies of the industry to navigate rough waters of tricky family conversations. Thankfully, talking with relatives across the dining room table can be approached with two of the tactics that we teach clients during media training seminars.
Stay on Message
Whether you want everyone to know that you love your new job, you broke up with your significant other or the reason you’re moving to a new city, once the pie is served and the dishes are washed the end goal should be a positive dialogue. For any interview or conversation, a game plan developed beforehand – with two to three key messages – can help guide conversation on a day full of potentially awkward discussions.
Generally, the sooner you get your key messages across the better (and easier) the conversation will be. Don’t wait until coffee is being poured; get your message out while the turkey is being carved or the football is being thrown in the backyard before dinner. The more you repeat yourself and provide examples, the higher the odds that your message will get through to the person(s) you’re talking to.
Most importantly, do your best to understand your audience and their perspectives ahead of time. A house full of relatives may be daunting, but like a first-time interview with a reporter, consider what you want them to understand and do your best to guide the narrative. Every person will want to know something different and ask varying questions, but if you remember to stick to a cohesive message the conversations will flow like gravy.
Know How to Bridge
Similar to media interviews, family gatherings can occasionally feel forced. We’ve all experienced an uncomfortable dinner table conversation where one person is either stumbling to set the record straight, being pushed to say too much or not getting the opportunity to say anything at all. Whether it’s damage control or handing a persistent (or nosey) relative, bridging is an effective way to deflect questions and gently take control of the conversation.
Bridging is simply a way to briefly acknowledge a question then pivot to the message point you want to discuss. It’s also a way to ensure you’re not called out by your uncle for dodging a personal or political question when you just want someone to pass the green bean casserole. A few of my favorite examples of blocking and bridging include:
Sometimes big family holiday dinners can be intimidating. Whether it’s the cross examination from your aunts as to why a boyfriend hasn’t popped the question yet or Grandpa’s interrogations about who you voted for in the last election, enlist a few communication strategies from the pros to navigate tricky conversations and stay on message. And remember, be thankful that awkward family Thanksgiving dinners only happen once a year. Happy Thanksgiving!
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