With Thanksgiving approaching many Americans may be anxious about difficult conversations that could emerge. No one wants their Thanksgiving meal to turn into a food fight. Virginia Tech expert Todd Schenk has some recommendations on how to navigate conversation with friends and family, in 2017.

"Thanksgiving serves as an opportunity to appreciate each other's humanity, even when we disagree,” says Schenk. “We should not avoid tough discussions because if we want to be truly understood and advance our causes, we have to connect with people very different than ourselves.”

Watch video interview of Schenk discussing last year’s election.


Schenk, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, tested the theory that people with opposing views could successfully engage and empathize with one another, despite differences of opinion.

In a workshop called “The Frenemies Project,” Schenk had students and other Virginia Tech affiliates with opposing views on immigration in the same room. The project explored ways in which facilitated dialogue among individuals that hold negative perceptions can foster mutual understanding and respect. The study found increased empathy and mutual understanding among its participants. While they still had different opinions, the humanization of participants made them more willing to find compromise.

Read Schenk’s full bio here and visit his website, which offers tips on engaging in civil dialogue and increasing genuine understanding.

Quoting Schenk

“One effective technique is ‘active listening’ which calls on us to really listen, asking probing questions to dig deeper into our counterparts’ perspectives and confirm that we understand what they are saying. This is not a passive process of simply waiting our turn, and then delivering our monologue when we have the chance.”

“Active listening does not ask us to change our minds, although that can happen, but rather that to remain open and willing to increase empathy and understanding.”

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