Prepare for Difficult Holiday Conversations with the “Angry Uncle Bot”

By Chuck Doran and Megan Winkeler

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together and share our appreciation for one another – and of course, to navigate potentially difficult conversations and awkward mealtime moments. Holiday gatherings become a forum to either avoid controversial topics or advocate for what we believe in, often leaving everyone feeling uncomfortable around the table.

Luckily, the New York Times created an “Angry Uncle Bot” so you can practice skills for leading productive conversations about difficult topics. The bot focuses on political conversations, allowing you to choose to engage with a liberal or conservative relative. The Angry Uncle then puts forward a potentially fraught political statement, and you must choose how to respond from three preset options. Then, a coach gives you feedback about your choice.

The lessons provided by the article’s coach reflect advice that we have given on this blog about addressing interpersonal conflict, dealing with difficult tactics, managing strong emotions, focusing on interests, practicing active listening, and preparing to navigate potentially difficult conversations. The article sums up their suggested approach:

“1. Ask open-ended, genuinely curious, nonjudgmental questions.
2. Listen to what people you disagree with say and deepen your understanding with follow-up inquiries.
3. Reflect back their perspective by summarizing their answers and noting underlying emotions.
4. Agree before disagreeing by naming ways in which you agree with their point of view.
5. Share your perspective by telling a story about a personal experience.”

Interacting with the Angry Uncle Bot only takes a couple of minutes, and the lessons are helpful for conversations far beyond politically-motivated disagreements. Take the bot for a spin, and prepare for those difficult conversations before you sit down to enjoy your turkey tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at MWI!

To learn more about managing difficult conversations and building your negotiation skills, contact Chuck Doran at 617-895-4026 or cdoran@mwi.org.

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