The Most Sincere Thanksgiving Advice I Can Muster

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Raven & Boar Farm, Old Chatham, New York
“You have to find creative ways to say, ‘I really appreciate your point of view.'”

I echo a lot of other food journalists who find our holiday lifestyle reporting trivial in light of last week’s election and its aftermath. I stand by pieces like “where to host your holiday party” and “what to get the pet owner in your life,” but they can easily seem frivolous and uncomfortably out of out of touch in this political climate.

Chances are that the election will be the looming elephant in the dining room if not the main event. If you’re like me, then you’re much less concerned about crafting showstopping side salads than about holding a conversation with friends and family who hold different and equally passionate views. How can we be together in such a divisive time? How do I maintain my own decency when emotions run high? How might we come to a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s beliefs? 

I’m of course no therapist, but alongside some hosting hacks, the most important and sincere Thanksgiving advice I can muster ran in the New York Times a couple years back in a piece entitled “Crisis Negotiators Give Thanksgiving Tips.” The title might seem overwrought, but the guidance from FBI senior negotiators is insightful. Some highlights:

  • “‘Just shut up and listen,’ says Frederick J. Lanceley, the FBI’s former senior negotiator and former principal director of its negotiation course… ‘People want to be heard. They want the attention.’”
  • “Jennifer Higby, a detective with the Department of Public Safety in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a board member of the Michigan Association of Hostage Negotiators, concurs with Mr. Voss. ‘Say you’re sorry when you’re not sorry,’ she says. ‘Let bygones be bygones. I lost my dad to cancer 18 months ago. You just never know when the last time you’re going to see someone is.’”
  • Gary Noesner, the author of the memoir Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, says: ‘You have to find creative ways to say, ‘I really appreciate your point of view, and it’s great to have an opportunity to hear how strongly you feel about that, but my own view is different.’ Try to find ways to acknowledge what they’re saying without agreeing or disagreeing with it.’”
  • Is lying ever necessary? Jennifer Hardwich, a police officer with the Syracuse Police Department and a regional vice president of the New York Association of Hostage Negotiators, says: ‘Instead of lying, we call it minimizing. You try to get people to think that a situation isn’t so bad, you break it down for them so they see that it isn’t the end of the world, that maybe they don’t need to make such a big deal of it. We try to reframe things rather than flat-out lie.’”

If I had to add anything to the piece, it’d be a discussion of empathy, which is something we should all be open to. The dinner table is as good of a setting as any to listen and sit with ideas we might not personally accept. Read the whole piece for more tips and context, and it goes without typing that this advice isn’t just Thanksgiving relevant—I plan to apply it to any dialogue with which I don’t agree. 

Have any additional negotiation tips or resources you’d like to share? Let us know by leaving a comment or writing to us at

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