Who's Coming to Dinner 2 - Meeting the Emotional Needs of Your Guests

We all have expectations about what a holiday should be.  Some of us love the family togetherness, some show up for the stuffing and cranberries, and some of us just love a good old family argument.  That’s fine as long as no one starts whipping mashed potatoes across the room.

thanksgiving table

As I pointed out in “Who’s Coming to Dinner?” we all have certain needs that can come up at holiday feasts.  Now that you have a better understanding of who is showing up, with a little sensitivity and positivity, you can accommodate their needs beyond food and drink.  

The masks that we wear to occasions are a result of long-held emotional and psychological patterns.  We each have beliefs like “I’ll never get enough” or “I need to be in charge” that dictate our behavior.  Until we understand that pattern, and know that we can make a new choice, there is little chance that new behaviors will emerge.

However, once you realize your own pattern you have the opportunity to make a new choice about how you show up.  I challenge you to pick one type of guest below that might push your buttons every holiday and see how you can interact differently.  It takes two to tango, and if you start doing the waltz, they’ll either have to change their tune or find someone else to get the reaction they want.

The Jester

In order to not become the focus of The Jester’s antics, it’s important to understand why they are putting on such a show. The people who play these roles can feel isolated in their lives and they are trying to make up for it, thinking people will only like them if they are bigger than life.  Respond to them from a neutral place, rather than feeding into their need for negative attention.  If they’re not getting a rise out of you, they will move on to the next lucky victim.

The Enforcer

Even though this person will never ask for help in the kitchen, that is what they want most.  They may seem cranky and overwhelmed, but will refuse to let anyone help, while feeling like they’re being judged on every detail.  Make a point to tell them how much you appreciate the delicious food, or offer to do the dishes after dinner.  A little consideration can help this person take it down a notch, and not crank up the stress with the heat of the kitchen.

The Overachiever

The reason this person can push buttons is because they bring up the insecurities of other people, even though they are desperately trying to hide their own.  When this person starts telling you how great they are, simply agree with them.  Find something that you can genuinely praise them for, and mean it.  Once they feel accepted, they will no longer need to boast about trivial things, and maybe you can shift the conversation to something more interesting.  Politics, anyone?

The Golden child

This person shows up knowing that they have certain expectations to uphold at family gatherings, and can’t really show their true (i.e. flawed) selves. After all, everyone assumes that this person’s life is exceptional based on prior success alone.  Give them space to open up to you by asking how they are now, rather than bringing up old accomplishments.  Let them know that you’ll always love them, even if they haven’t broken any world records lately.

The Whiner

When you hear how terrible their life is - and you will - listen for a while, then try to point out the things you see going well for them.  If they try to deny that there is anything good happening for them, re-direct them by giving them a small task, and then praise them for doing it well.  They will either change their tune or get tired of helping, and you can only stuff so many compliments in between bites of pumpkin pie.

When your family finally gathers, remember that this is not the time and place to be teaching anyone in your life to be different.  It is a time to appreciate each other no matter how we show up, and share blessings together.  Making your interactions with your loved ones as authentic as possible without getting your buttons pushed is the recipe for a great holiday celebration.