thanksgiving traps metro

Awkward conversations are a cliche for a reason at Thanksgiving and other holidays. It's easy as pumpkin pie to fall into the trap. But definitely not as satisfying.

Awkward holiday conversations are a cliche for a reason. You put too many people in the same space, and there are bound to be plenty of different opinions on deeply held opinions. That can drive the holiday atmosphere right into the danger zone faster than you say pumpkin pie.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has added a whole new level of potentially awkward, emotionally charged topics to the already dangerous mix. The statistics around that are telling.

One in 10 Americans won’t openly admit to being vaccinated, according to a recent Harris poll. Meanwhile, more than half of vaccinated respondents said they are “extremely” or “considerably” hesitant when it comes to spending the holidays with anyone who is unvaccinated, even if that person is a family member or a friend.

It’s tempting, of course, to avoid any mention of the pandemic at all. And, likely even smart, particularly during any family celebration. But it may not be entirely possible if someone is particularly determined. And there is evidence that personal conversations are important game-changers. Thirty percent of unvaccinated adults who changed their minds were influenced to do so by family and friends, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The Office of the Surgeon General, meanwhile, the nation’s official doctor, has just released a guide for talking with family and friends about health misinformation. It offers tips for navigating conversations with family and friends about health misinformation, be it COVID-19, weight loss, flu shots, or any other health-related topic.

Among the first things it advises people not to do is grab the cell phone to ask Aunt Google for links proving your friend is wrong. We all like to be right, so doing this is obviously the fastest way to start a fight and shut down any chance at productive conversation.

Along those same lines, it is also very important not to become judgmental or engage in any kind of shaming behavior when discussing something you believe to be misinformation.

Here are six things to keep in mind if you feel you must talk to someone about COVID-19 or other health misinformation for the sake of their well-being.

1. First and foremost, just listen — Be curious about where they’re getting their information. Ask questions to make sure you understand what their concerns and fears might be.

2. Empathize — Focus on the wider issues at hand, and how they feel about it rather than fact-checking them. Emphasize that you understand their feelings. Focus on building a bridge for future conversations on the topic. Because, chances are slim that you will change their mind in a single conversation. Particularly, a conversation in front of so many other people, at a family celebration, where things can rapidly become awkward and tense as other family members inevitably join the fray.

3. Follow up later and share credible sources — What you do later is likely to be more impactful than what you can say during holiday get togethers. Invite them to lunch. Talk about how hard it is to find accurate information online. Especially during a pandemic, when there is new information almost every day. Offer them credible sources that are transparent and unbiased, where no one is trying to gain anything, be it influence, page views, or money for products. Suggest they talk to their personal physician, for example, who is probably among the least likely to share misinformation.

4. Avoid shaming them — In particular, don’t share any factual material that in any way makes fun of their views. People don’t like to appear wrong, especially in front of friends or family members. Leave room for them to change their mind.

5. Be inclusive and kind — Make sure they know you care about their well-being first and foremost. Use inclusive language that shows you relate to their struggles. Phrases like I understand, I’ve been confused too, it’s hard to know who to trust, can help build a bridge for future conversation.

6. Be patient and prioritize the relationship — Most people will not change a deeply held opinion or belief on the basis of one or two conversations. Pushing too hard in any one conversation is the quickest way to alienate your friend or family member and shut communication down altogether. Leave plenty of room future conversations with them.

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