Recently I was asked by Steve the following question:
My parents and I have been invited to have Easter dinner with an elderly lady and her divorced son!
I have a major problem with this because the son is a highly negative, opinionated, and angry individual who dominates the conversation on mostly negative topics of the day ! I get the distinctive impression that if one does not agree with him 100 % – this man is apt to storm out and ruin the festivities – as he has done this before! I always thought holiday gatherings were for partaking of plentiful food and good cheer ! Should I say something or cozy up to this person as my parents who wind up agreeing him because they want to seem NICE? This man is anti-social….apparently he has gotten into heated arguments with many…….most definitely someone in need of Anger Management lessons!
My family and I have no other options!
Is there an effective way I can skirt around this situation or should I expect more of the same?
My response was to Steve was …
I am going to assume that you have already considered the option of graciously declining the invitation on behalf of yourself and your parents. So, since you have accepted the invitation and are going, there needs to be a strategy to handle the dinner so that your elderly woman friend and the three of you will enjoy your time together whether or not her son is present. The easiest method I can suggest is the ability to smile, validate and change the subject graciously. When you are engaged in conversation with this gentleman and the conversation is getting heated, validate his point by saying something such as, “That’s interesting, I never knew that. Now, on a completely different but one of MY favorite subjects, what is your favorite vacation destination? I am considering taking some time off in a few months and going to the Caribbean. Do you have any favorite places you have visited?” If he offers an opinion, listen, smile and thank him and then turn your attention back to your parents and your friend. The less attention you pay him, the less importance his presence will have on the event. Don’t ignore him, that would be rude. Include him in the conversation by asking his opinion. But once he has offered his “two-cents”, turn back to the others and ask for theirs so that he cannot monopolize the conversation. You have to be very proactive as the “conductor” of the conversation “symphony”. Keep this back and forth going with similar questions throughout the meal so he feels he is being paid attention to but you are not only paying attention to him. Your parents and his mother are also part of the conversation.
Also, be sure to compliment him – a lot! It is really hard to be angry at someone who is complimenting you and saying nice things about you. I am sure you have heard the term, “kill him with kindness”. That is what I am suggesting. Don’t mirror his negativity. Instead encourage him to mirror your positivity. Say only things to him about him that are upbeat and positive. It will be surprising to you how he will either be quieter or more positive himself. Usually people who show themselves as negative, verbose, and dominating are that way because they don’t think people like them. Pretend you do like him. See what happens.
I hope your experiment works – it couldn’t hurt.