25 February 2019, by Nicholas Quek

How not to murder your family members at dinner

Sunday evenings are always a bit of an emotional gamble. Dinner with my family either goes incredibly well, or ends with the pseduo-disownment of either one of the three children.

It would be far more entertaining to detail the events of the latter, but I thought today we could look at a family dinner that in my opinion went particularly well, and see what we can learn about communicating with family members in general.

1. Good food

Dinner took place at a Thai restaurant, which has some incredible omelettes and some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had. I included this section partly in jest – what on earth does food have to do with communication? – but I promise you, it’s important.

Eating is a common and necessary activity that everyone does. And for some reason, you decide every week to do it with these annoying people.

One thing that always helps in communication is a common starting ground. And what better ground is there than pad thai?

Having food in the centre shifts the focus away from each other and to the activity itself; words become less aggressive, body language is better tamed, because at the end of the day, we still need to eat.

And it’s hard to get angry when the pandan chicken is so frickin’ amazing. At some point you’ll find a way to resolve the argument just so you have time to stuff another piece in your mouth.

2. Listening. Really listening.

So something my brother did while we were conversing was respond to something I said, disagreeing with me sharply.

You know what that told me? It told me that I was understood, that my points were being considered, taken in.

What does it mean to listen? Surely it means more than just keeping quiet and registering the voice of the other person.

Think about it the other way around. What do you want to happen when you speak to someone?

What do you want them to do?

How do you want them to hear you?

Do that for them.

It can be tempting to reduce each other’s voice to a drone. I remember moments where I gave up trying to listen to my father’s ramblings; I still struggle with that today (sorry dad!).

But then I remember that I ramble all the time, and through all that my family has sat with me, and listened. Actually considered and engaged with what I said.

It is a wonderful feeling to feel heard, even if it results in disagreement. Better that we are clear in disagreement, than apathetic in mumbled ‘oh that’s interesting’, ‘okay’, ‘that’s cool’.

3. Remember that you’re still going to see them every week for the rest of your life.

I remember being prepared to launch into a monologue deconstructing my mother’s opinions about liberal arts education, then I remembered she owns the home I live in.

This one doesn’t need much explanation. There are few hills worth dying on if they cost you your family (and a warm bed at night).

I think it can be a lot more helpful to look at positive examples of what healthy conversations can look like, and the factors that go into making them, as opposed to looking at negative examples. Those might be helpful yes, but it’s far more useful to look at the positive; the negative makes itself clear in that way.

So would I still continue to dine with these annoying people? My answer is an absolutely yes!

My siblings enjoying a meal together

My siblings enjoying a meal together

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