Health + Behavior

Happy Thanksgiving, Grandma … guess what? I’m quitting my job to raise chickens

Tact and timing are keys to delivering surprising news at a family gathering

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Thanksgiving dinner
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Sharing potentially upsetting news earlier gives everyone time to digest it and share their reactions.

Thanksgiving is often a time to share big news. The entire family, maybe some relatives you rarely see, is there to celebrate when you announce, “I’m getting married!” or “I’ve been promoted!”

On the flip side, Thanksgiving is also when some people drop bombshells — news that is likely to upset or surprise some family members. “We’re getting a divorce,” “I’m gay,” or “We’re moving,” are a few examples.

You can deliver news like this in a way that makes it less stressful for yourself and gentler on your loved ones, says Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and director of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Clinic at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Is there a best time to drop news that might be upsetting for some during Thanksgiving?

From the standpoint of the deliverer, the earlier the better. It shortens the anticipatory anxiety stage, the worry about people’s reactions and possible negative judgment. You could wait until after dessert, but then you will have spent most of your time distracted by what you’re planning to say. Sharing news earlier gives everyone time to digest it and share their reactions.

Is it better to share the news ahead of time with several key family members or close friends instead of the entire group at once?

It’s always best to disclose your news to the closest family members first, because they are more likely to be genuine in their response, whatever it may be. It’s a preview of how the rest of the group may react and may put your mind at ease in terms of knowing what to expect when you disclose to extended family. It’s also respectful and considerate to give advance warning to the family member whose response you care most about.

What is the most considerate, loving way to deliver what may be unwelcome news?

Start by prefacing the disclosure with something like, “There is something important about myself that I would like to tell you about. Is this a good time to tell you?” Another way to begin is by saying, “What I’m about to tell you may surprise or upset you. I will do my best to answer any questions you may have.”

If the family is upset, angry or worried by my news, what’s the smart way to respond?

It might be challenging to field a flurry of questions and opinions all at once, so it’s best not to open the floor for discussion. It takes time to formulate thoughtful questions and answers. Tell your relatives you’re happy to discuss the news or answer questions one-on-one, at a later date.

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