The turkey is in the oven. The table is set. You’re in the kitchen stirring up gravy when you hear familiar sounds coming from the living room. You stir faster. Every year, the family gets together for the holidays, but because the holidays have been on hiatus, this is the year we will all make up for it by being extra. Extra excitable. Extra chatty. Extra festive.
Uncle Frank is in the next room pulling out the stops for his favorite people. He’s always been assertive, but this year he is downright domineering. Along with everyone else, he’s been saving up for today.
Quiet cousin Mabel sits on the divan nursing her glass of wine and being extra withdrawn as Uncle Frank pushes his extra stories around the room and you know exactly how many minutes you have before long-suffering Aunt Beatrice decides to offer up the extra horrific details of her latest medical crisis to the mix. Your brother Charlie is about to be extra passionate about the latest politics and your daughter Sam suddenly joins you in the kitchen about to cry because she extra forgot how uncomfortable the family gatherings used to be.
And she wonders whether—and more importantly, how—anything can be done about it.
How can you keep the holiday peace in your party without everyone going to pieces? Let’s talk turkey about simple communication strategies pulled from what we know about different personalities. Use your family’s personality patterns to your advantage and they will think you’ve—finally—come to understand and appreciate them.
Most families have a healthy mix of personality types in it and applying your knowledge of them will give you an extra good chance of having a fabulous Thanksgiving.
Tactic #1: Match like with like
The Extraverts in your family are planted firmly in the middle of the crowd. They are so extra they can hardly contain themselves. They aren’t as particular about the discussion topic as they are about gathering the energy in the room and reflecting it a hundred-fold.
Extraverts tend to think out loud, use hand gestures, and can feel aggressive in their effort to connect. Hooking Uncle Frank to another Extravert and guiding them aside to have their own conversation allows the rest of the room to catch their breath. If a mutual subject isn’t readily available, (“Did you know Uncle Frank served in the Army? You did, too, didn’t you?”), direct them to come up with two party games for later.
Tactic #2: Offer options
The Introverts on the couch are slowly sinking between the cushions. They are here because family is forever but are conserving as much extra energy as possible in order to make it as far as charades before they abandon ship.
Introverts tend to skip the small talk, keep physically still, and appear apathetic or bored in their efforts to conserve energy in a room full of people. Offer them alternative activities and bring a smile to their face. Ask cousin Mabel for help with something that gives her a few minutes of alone time, or ask her to join you in the kitchen where you can share quiet observations or wide open moments of blissful silence.
Tactic #3: Change the story
You will recognize the Sensing personalities in your group when they use phrases like, “If it was good enough then, it’s good enough now,” “Don’t rush me,” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” They demand concrete data to back up your stories and are not big fans of radical change.
Aunt Beatrice will tell you what happened to her appendix in a long-winded blow-by-blow story that leaves none of the details out. Detouring her linear conversation with a question can bring her around to safer subjects. Does she remember the old family recipe for cornbread stuffing? What were the ingredients? How was it made? Would she mind writing it down for you?
Tactic #4: Invite alternative points of view
The Intuitives in the room are sitting back and taking the pulse of your party. They notice who was invited, which traditions are being maintained, and are drawing inferences about your finances through the new furniture you bought. They are eavesdropping on snatches of conversations and smile knowingly into their wine glass when the words don’t match the body language.
Reminding Sam about personality facts won’t comfort her as much as allowing her to draw out her own conclusions. Invite her to extrapolate on her ideas and brainstorm her own solutions to the situations she finds uncomfortable. Ask her, “What does your gut tell you?” Challenge her to create a fresh approach to the holiday that can be implemented next year. And then collaborate with her and do it.
Tactic #5: Derail the runaway train
Personalities that fall heavily into the Thinking style are here to keep score, and not just on the afternoon football game. They keep the family tree records and pull them out faithfully every holiday to remind everyone who they most resemble and which ancestor is turning in their grave this very minute over the outfit you showed up in.
Your brother Charlie is going to lay out every angle of the political landscape and give grief to anyone who challenges him without the corresponding details. Although Charlie is entertained, he needs to be derailed. Hand him a subject less volatile for him to chew on. What is his opinion on the floor plan of your home? Can he recommend a good contractor? Does it seem logical to remove this wall? Ask the obvious question: “What do you think?”
Tactic #6: Make space for the feelings
In the opposite corner, we have our Feelers. These folks want peace on earth. Right here, right now. They will speak up for inclusion, harmony around the dinner table, and remind the Thinkers of their manners. Feelers appreciate warmth, tactfulness, and can sacrifice themselves to keep the peace if necessary. For them, a hug goes a long way.
Conversations with Feelers involve setting a tone of gentleness and invitation because they are monitoring the emotional undertones instead of the actual words or facts. Open with a compliment or ask how someone in their circle is doing. Let them speak first, because they may not speak up later if they have an opposing point of view to someone else more vocal. Keep subjects to bigger pictures and ask, “How does that feel to you?”
Tactic #7: Use humor
Judging personalities are the decision makers in the room. If they aren’t the ones who organized the party then they are the ones who RSVP’d early. They are extra relieved to see the holidays finally back on track and rather than ask you what wine to bring, saved you the crisis of indecision and brought the good stuff.
With a Judger, there is very likely only one right way to do things. They tend to take themselves rather seriously. When speaking to a Judger, be succinct, calm, honest, and open. To keep her out of your kitchen, compliment her dry wit and ask if she’d like to prepare a toast for the group at supper. Hand her a glass of wine and sit her down with a pencil to work on it.
Tactic #8: Stay flexible
Perceivers arrive fashionably late, and fully expect you to jump for joy when they do. They picked up some cheese and crackers at the last minute because it happened to be on sale yesterday and can’t wait to show you the new twist on the old family favorite recipe. Pumpkin pie was so last decade. They brought a sweet potato pie instead.
Personalities that identify strongly as Perceiving tend to enjoy spontaneity and know there are many ways of arriving at a conclusion or assembling a dessert tray. Let some of this extra enthusiasm compensate for the off-the-beaten path behavior and ask them to DJ the karaoke or oversee the holiday craft or cookie project you planned for later.
These tactics are simple personality party tricks. They could not only keep stress levels in check long enough for the pumpkin pie to be served, but might lead to your best holiday gathering ever!