4 Skills That Can Help You Survive Thanksgiving

 Apply specific job skills and behaviors to stay in control and make a great impression during your family holiday celebrations.

Apply specific job skills and behaviors to stay in control and make a great impression during your family holiday celebrations.

Some of you may be getting a little anxious about upcoming Thanksgiving feasts. In fact, you may be wondering if there’s a way to get out of them. Perhaps, come down with a plague or something. Many people love family gatherings with their seemingly picture perfect families. But, when family dynamics are challenging, you have cause to dread them as I did when I was a young professional.  I never knew when a casual remark might offend. Or, when I might be perceived as self-centered when talking about my career since my life was so different from others gathered around the table. And, when my stepmom criticized my life choices after refilling her wine glass, my irritation was visible and made others uncomfortable. In looking back, I could have approached it much differently, had I been older and wiser. 

How can you approach family time more objectively regardless of the dynamics?  How can you stop becoming a kid again once you walk in the door? Here are four ways to leverage your job skills so you can act like the grown-up you are, avoid getting bogged down in dysfunctional quagmire and survive.

1. Be part of the team

At work, you're part of a team. Others know they can count on you to deliver on your action items.  There are expectations. No BS. No excuses. It's the same with your family. And sure, Mom will say you don't need to bring anything, or help out, but you aren't twelve. The act of being involved reflects the spirit of the holiday and sends a message you give a sh*t. There’s no excuse to show up empty-handed.  It doesn’t matter what you bring, just make it something more than the six-pack of beer you plan to drink. A bunch of fall flowers at a grocery store goes for less than $10. For more inspiration, here are 28 Hostess Gifts to Bring on Thanksgiving. Be part of the family and do your part to make the day a success. 

2. Know your audience

In business settings, you assess your audience and converse accordingly. Making the same sales pitch to Google, Gap Stores, and Home Depot and taunting the same product benefits would be a colossal fail. So be mindful of family members, particularly those you rarely see, and any new acquaintances.  Casual chit-chat can often sound insensitive. Your excitement over a recent promotion, a new loft apartment, or that dazzling diamond that can burn a hole in your retina if the sunlight catches it just right, can be perceived as arrogant and inconsiderate if some guests have fallen on hard times.

And, in case you haven't looked at social media, or a flat screen in the last two years, political angst is rampant. You know it's not wise to talk politics at work, and you want to remember how it can alienate co-workers and clients. And, if you know that's how it plays out at work, why would being an agitator at home be in your best interest?  Getting Grandpa all riled up about tax reform or Obamacare is a recipe for disaster.

3. Network

Surviving the day may seem like a daunting task especially if you rarely see some family members, are estranged, or you're visiting your partner's family for the first time.  But, if you approach the situation as you would a networking event, you can gain control of the situation and your emotions. If you don't go to networking events often, check out the 9 Tips for Navigating Your First Networking Event for some pointers.

You don't go to networking events unprepared to answer difficult questions. Take the time to figure out how you will respond to the tough questions, especially those that irritate the hell out of you or make you feel like a dumbass. It's easier to play 20 Questions Career & Work-Life Edition when you know the answers in advance!

Once you arrive, put your damn phone down, grab a beverage and work the room.  
If you find it difficult to socialize with some guests, it's quite simple. People love to talk about themselves. Here's how it works: 1. Approach. 2. Ask a question. 3. Listen and show interest.  4. Ask another question. Your hosts will love and appreciate how involved you are. Mom will be proud. And, like networking events, you might learn some interesting tidbits or even pick up a few LinkedIn connections. If nothing else, it's good practice. Surprisingly you may find you enjoy interacting with the family when it's not all about you.

4. Show initiative

At work and work events when co-workers are frantically trying to get things done, or running around in a million different directions to meet a deadline, you jump right in to help. You don't sit in a corner, ignore the chaos and become self-absorbed with social media and texting. So, show that kind of initiative around your family. Here are 5 Tips to Be a Good Guest on Thanksgiving. Find your host and offer to help. Look around, and you can figure out what needs to happen without asking. Whether it's your parents, siblings or extended family, they may be smiling on the outside, but your help will make them happy on the inside. Hosting a gathering is exhausting!  And, if you’re staying over don't forget your added responsibilities. Namely, keeping your sleeping and bathroom spaces tidy.  At work, you have to keep your workspace and common areas clean because those are the rules. The same logic applies when you're a guest in someone's home. Even if it's your parent's home you're a grown-up now, so act like it. 

Family dynamics are complicated. Tap into your confident professional side so you can enjoy the time with your family and loved ones. Trust me, one of these days you'll wish you had more of it.

Wishing you and yours a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.