University of Iowa professor on avoiding tense family debates during the holidays

Michele Williams, Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa, has taught courses on inclusive leadership and negotiation at the UI Tippie College of Business for more than five years.

IOWA CITY — The adage to never discuss religion or politics with family and friends — especially over dinner or over the holidays — is becoming increasingly difficult to follow these days as these taboo subjects increasingly spill into subjects historically considered safer, like the Cost of the turkey, the weather, or even Taylor Swift.

And where families arriving for a holiday gathering a decade ago might have come away with a clean slate, many today arrive excited and ready to pounce on comments made and seen on one social media giant or another – Platforms that have themselves become the subject of politics Discord.

But there is a path to holiday harmony, according to Michele Williams, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa, who has taught courses in inclusive leadership and negotiation at the UI Tippie College of Business for more than five years.

“Dispute resolution, conflict resolution, and negotiation tactics are actually things that we can use in everyday life to make our gatherings more positive,” Williams said.

Potentially sensitive issues at this season’s holiday gatherings — beyond the blanket religious and political landmines — include gas prices, food bills, Twitter, labor conditions, the World Cup and even concert ticket sales.

The breadth of conversational conflict zones that are emerging today is so wide, Williams said, that simply avoiding them may be impossible.

“So I think when conversations arise, when people can handle it as a dialogue — that is, an exploration of joining a common understanding,” Williams said, “this orientation to the conversation can allow it to take a more positive direction where people are entering.” to gain better understanding and appreciation for each other.”

Of course, keeping emotions in check during heated discussions about hot topics is easier said than done, which is why Williams proposes three techniques to achieve dialogue rather than debate.

  • First, she said, listen with the intent to understand.

“Americans tend not to listen, or they listen just enough to respond, say what they want to say, or prove the other side wrong,” she said. “And that’s a debate tactic.”

Instead, try something called “generative listening,” Williams said, which attempts to understand someone through the most generous and positive light — assuming their best intentions.

“So that’s number one, to listen with empathy and grace and in a generative way.”

  • Her second tip is to slow down.

“Often our conversations slip away,” she said, emphasizing how quickly a discussion can escalate into a debate or even an argument. “We react so quickly”

Instead, Williams suggested using a listening technique developed at the University of Michigan called the LARA method — which stands for listening, acknowledging, responding, and then adding additional insight, information, or questions to the conversation.

The affirmative piece is important in that it prompts the listener to repeat what they heard before responding with their thoughts, and it ensures the speaker has been understood, Williams said.

“That slows down the conversation to make sure people feel heard,” she said.

  • The third technique is to “stay curious.”

“If people say something that might trigger you … ask a question,” Williams said. “How do you come to that conclusion?

“Sometimes you can uncover assumptions that you or others make that at least allow you to agree to disagree rather than jump at each other.”

Of course, if all else fails, the hosts can have an “exhaust valve” in their back pocket, Williams said. It can be something they share with others – like a code word. Or just an internal diversionary plan when discussions lead to arguments or arguments.

“They might say if things start going in the wrong direction and we’re not feeling well, we’re going to say, ‘Let’s walk the dog. Let us go for a walk. Let’s have some hot chocolate,'” she said. “Have a word that signals that release valve so they can put that conversation aside for the holidays.”

Vanessa Miller reports on higher education for The Gazette.

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