Everyone wants a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, the one depicted in his famous 1941 painting “Freedom From Want.” The painting shows a happy family seated around the table waiting for the turkey to be carved.
For many Americans, this is far from reality. Thanksgiving becomes something to dread, more of an endurance test and something to survive rather than to enjoy. And when you own a family business, there are even more topics that can cause conflict and tension.
I saw an ecard recently that read, “My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is when we all pass out and stop talking to each other.” Here are a few tips for how to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner when you run a family business, before you’ve reached that point.
- Make your desire to keep family business off the table known prior to dinner.
You can take a lighthearted approach to this if you are the host. When issuing the invitation, say something like, bring your favorite side dish and bottle of wine, but leave business matters at the office for the day. Or you may remind family members during a meeting or through a memo that Thanksgiving is a day off from the business.
- Plan an if/then scenario.
This tip comes from the Wall Street Journal article, “How to Have Thanksgiving Dinner Without a Family Blowup.” Author Elizabeth Bernstein recommends you coach yourself on how you might respond should a certain topic come up despite your request to not talk about the business. Let’s say one son blames the other son for thefts from the warehouse, and makes a snide comment as he passes the gravy. How will you handle it? One suggestion may be to quickly table it by saying, “Let’s be sure to address that Monday morning at our weekly meeting.”
- Privately enlist the help of the person most likely to start the drama.
Your brother Fred is typically the one to bring the tension, generally by referencing some long-ago conflict. Call Fred before the dinner and tell him, “Fred, I really need your help this year to have a more peaceful gathering. If you see any conflict start to develop, can I count on you to change the subject? Maybe tell us about your last fishing trip.”
Fred will be flattered you asked for his help, and eager to share his story. Problem solved.
If all this fails, there’s always TV. As comedian Craig Ferguson said, “I like football. I find it’s an exciting strategic game. It’s a great way to avoid conversation with your family at Thanksgiving.”