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Bridging the divide at the holiday table: Three tips from Jason Jay

Thanksgiving Discussion

Meaningful conversations about big issues can be challenging—and these days there is no shortage of big issues. Many of us in the U.S. are bracing for the Thanksgiving table, where family will convene over dinner but potentially divide over hot-button topics like politics and climate change.

Unfortunately, conversations that end in gridlock can be damaging to our relationships. So how can we turn these conversations around, and embrace the results?

This is precisely the question Jason Jay, Executive Director of MIT Sloan's Sustainability Initiative, and co-author Gabriel Grant set out to answer in their field guide for difficult conversations, Breaking Through the Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World. Explore the exercises in their book. Or, start with an overview in Jay’s recent TEDx Talk.

In the meantime, here are three tips from Jay, as shared with Living Lab Radio, for bridging the divide at the holiday table.

  1. Start from a foundation of relatedness. “When I've had political conversations with my cousins, for example, the first half hour of the conversation is just about our kids, about our lives,” says Jay. Having a shared experience is essential for having a fruitful conversation on a difficult topic.
  2. Let dinner be dinner. “It's perfectly valid to have a holiday dinner that's just a holiday dinner; that builds the context for a conversation that might happen later,” says Jay. He also says hosts should be transparent about when and where those conversations can take place.
  3. Consider private discussions. Sometimes it’s easier to have a difficult conversation one-on-one, without the larger group taking sides. “That's a very real dynamic when things start to polarize.”

If you’re looking to build consensus around sustainability in particular, you can learn firsthand from Jay in his MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Strategies for Sustainable Business. The next session is offered March 18-20, 2019.

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