The picture-perfect family around the table at Thanksgiving is hardly what most people experience when they return home for the holidays. A gleaming turkey and polite conversation over the elegant spread would be nice, but real life doesn’t come with photo presets. It’s more likely that the visit is marred with work interruptions, political tensions and family disagreements.
However, Thanksgiving—and other holidays—offer a natural chance to recharge while you’re away from the office. Using a few tips from your work life might just help improve relationships, relieve stress and allow you to enjoy yourself.
Here are five ways to break with tradition and use your business savvy to successfully navigate Thanksgiving.
1. Employ your best conflict resolution tactics.
When your in-law remarks about your “interesting” interpretation of their mashed potatoes recipe, consider how you’d handle a rude colleague. You wouldn’t make an incendiary move by reacting in anger. Instead of a direct attack, you’d take a breath, then logically conclude that their behavior, most likely, is due to what’s going on in their life. So don’t be personally affronted, but stay calm and move the conversation to something more positive—like your take on the family’s green bean casserole.
2. Understand regressions.
If your professional collaborative style morphs into unwarranted bossiness when you’re around your younger siblings, don’t embrace the unwanted trait. Use your analytical skills to understand the reason behind the switch. According to a New York Times article by Joyce Wadler, “Mark Smaller, who heads the public information committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association, said he believes that holidays can provoke ‘temporary regressions,’ in which parents, adult children and siblings, once reunited, revert to decades-old patterns of behavior.” Armed with that knowledge, you can recognize when family members are triggering your younger version and make adjustments as necessary.
3. Stress less; prepare first.
With remote working and 24/7 connectivity, an out-of-office message might not be enough to prevent work from creeping into the holiday. Spend the weeks before you sign off communicating travel plans, working ahead to complete tasks and delegating when appropriate. Be upfront with colleagues about what constitutes a work emergency, what can wait and just how off the grid you’ll be.
4. Set solid boundaries.
Just like you’d never discuss something ultra-private or political during your weekly Zooms at work, if certain personal matters are off-limits during a visit, let family members know in advance. If uncomfortable subjects do arise, handle them with deftness: “Uncle Joe, let’s agree to disagree about the midterm elections. But what do you think about my green bean casserole?”
5. Make your list; check it twice.
Your to-do list gets you through your workday, right? It can get you through your holiday, too. Jot down what you’d like to accomplish during your visit. Is it asking the keepers of your family history to retell a few old stories? Or perhaps it’s buying movie tickets (instead of snoozing through a show at home). Or maybe unplugging from your devices in the name of forging connections with your extended family. (In other words, put your text alerts on do not disturb and initiate that small talk with your mom’s second cousin.) Hold yourself accountable, and instead of feeling peeved, you might just leave Thanksgiving feeling productive.
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.