Len Blumin / Flickr Wild Turkey 3129...
Len Blumin / Flickr
It’s that time of the year again, when people are headed for family reunions over the holiday turkey and the orange turkey in Washington, D.C. may unfortunately cause a pugilistic rather than festive atmosphere to prevail at Grandma’s house. But fear not, you have professionals on your side to guide you safely through a meal with relatives for whom you hold ill-disguised contempt and vice versa. Hostage negotiator George Kohlrieser has been in his field forty years and has culled the following principles, which he suggests can be used in getting through a Thanksgiving dinner with one’s rage-aholic racist uncle without you or the uncle leaving the dinner feet first; or, you even having to un-friend the uncle on Facebook.
Kohlrieser gave Quartz this short quiz designed to test your negotiation and communication skills with people who may or may not be dangerously insane.  You, knowing your relatives, and presumably yourself, will have to be the judge of that. Here goes:

Pop quiz: A man takes two people hostage. He has a gun. He threatens to kill the hostages, and then himself. To change his mind, do you:

  1. Tell him he is wrong, and has a deranged outlook on life
  2. Explain that everything will be fine if he’d just hand over the gun
  3. Try to create a bond with him and see where it goes

Answer: number three. Rationale: You do not persuade people by insulting or coercing them.

Now, Quiz 2: Your Dad voted for Trump. You voted for Hillary. You are angry, he is delighted. You are heading home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or some other special occasion, hoping to enjoy your family’s company instead of engaging in a scorched earth battle. Do you:

  1. Tell him the country is going to hell in a hand basket, and it’s his fault
  2. Say that, the last time you checked, a racist, bigoted billionaire isn’t uniquely qualified to solve America’s problems
  3. Ask genuine questions about why he voted the way he did, showing yourself to be curious and open-minded.

Answer: Number three again. Rationale: You look good, and if a Trump Relative carved the turkey, it might behoove you to chill out until the sharp objects are in the dishwasher.

Kohlrieser says that in his line of work it is essential to understand WHY the hostage taker is doing what he’s doing. He stresses that you need to engage in dialogue and give a person options. For instance, the first time Kohlrieser talked a hostage taker down he asked the man, “How do you want your children to remember you? Would you like to be hand-cuffed in front or behind?” (The man screamed at him, “I hate my children and I’ll kill them if they come here,” but despite that he managed to get the guy out of the building without anybody being killed.)

So, utilizing these precepts, when asking your Trump Relative to pass the mashed potatoes you might say, “What do you think that Trump will actually accomplish by phasing out MediCare?” Or, “Should Trump actually expect his son in law to solve the Middle East conflict or should he pick someone with actual experience in that field, do you think?”

Finally, Kohlrieser notes:

“There’s a lot of sadness and fear and anger” among people who voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.”  He says that before you enter a tense family environment, you must:

1. Know your emotions and be prepared to manage them

2. Be curious: listen with an intent to hear, rather than react

3. Acceptance does not mean agreement

“We have to recognize that there is deep grief all around.” And,

“We have to try and understand their alienation,” he said.

So, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to sally forth into Thanksgiving dinner, a veritable Knight Errant of goodwill and harmony, armed with hostage negotiation principles, and deal effectively with your Republican relatives, even your crazy Evangelical cousin from Dubuque; not get redfaced; not become apopleptic; neither alienate nor become alienated.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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