Family gatherings can be difficult to navigate, for all sorts of reasons and based on myriad dynamics. Family members often seem to think that being related by blood gives them the right to behave in ways that would be completely unacceptable anywhere else.

Family Thanksgiving celebrations, especially for those of us who work in the oil and gas industry, can be particularly fraught. So this year, I’ve got a handy guide to help you get through the day.

As I’ve pointed out before, we, land professionals, tend to be the industry’s ambassadors to the general public, since we interact with people the most.

In that spirit, let’s approach Thanksgiving as an opportunity to highlight the positive aspects of the industry.

Marshall Your Facts and Examples

Know your facts before you go. Have some facts memorized, or write them down. The more comfortable you are with your facts and info, the more confident you will be, which will help you stay calm when Uncle Willy starts demanding to know why “you” are destroying the environment.

Prepare by watching the documentary “Fracknation,” which debunks each and every claim in the film, “Gasland.”  “Gasland” has the infamous scene where someone lights the water coming out of their faucet on fire and claims it’s because of fracking.  (It’s not – the water in the area has always been flammable as a result of there being methane, a harmless gas, in the water, dating back to the 1930s.)

There is no documented case of hydraulic fracturing causing water contamination.  In other words, the process is safe as it is miles in depth away from the water table.  There can be leaking on the surface that seeps into the ground water but that could happen in any well, not just hydraulic fracturing, as a result of operator negligence.

Hydraulic fracturing reduces our dependence on foreign oil.  Last December, for the first time in the history of our nation, oil production was so great that we became (for a brief time) a net exporter of oil.  This would have been unheard of just 10 years ago.  Because of  hydraulic fracturing we are becoming less and less dependent on foreign oil;  this benefits us both in terms of economy and national security.

Additional Tips to Make You the Ultimate Oil & Gas Ambassador

Don’t expect to miraculously change minds. It may be that the best you can do is plant a seed, maybe raise some doubt. If Aunt Harriet goes home and watches “Fracknation” or does her own research on hydraulic fracturing, that’s a win!

Come prepared. As I suggested above, you want to be prepared with your facts, but also come primed with your empathy and social skills. Remember, you are an industry ambassador, and that demands diplomacy.

Know your audience. You know your family best. Is your blowhard Uncle Bob going to be there? Decide in advance if it’s worth trying to educate him about the industry, or if it’s better to let him ramble a while and then change the subject. Not everyone will be open to what you have to say.

Listen. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. If you listen with genuine attention, rather than just waiting until you can jump in with what you want to say, you may do more for your own case than all your debating skills.

Remember that this should be a WIN-WIN situation. You don’t have to defend your industry to the death. Listen to what your family has to say, and try to make a few thoughtful, positive points. Don’t overwhelm them with information, but give them something they can check out for themselves, for example, the documentary. Remember that you may not change a strong opinion, but you can give them more to consider.

Know when to back down. If your conversation is getting heated, or just going around and around in circles, find a way to end the conversation. Not by exclaiming, “You’re hopeless! I need a drink,” and stomping off. Rather, suggest that you both need to try x, or need another bite of y. “Don’t you just love Aunt Mabel’s cocktail meatballs? I sure do. Let’s go get some (or some more)!”

Build a Pillow Fort. Grab the kids, and the couch cushions, and build a pillow fort! Seriously, play a game, have some fun, laugh with the kids, go for a walk. If you have to, think about this before you get there: Would your family play board games? How about charades? Keeping in mind YOUR family, what else would be an engaging distraction?

Finally, if you are unsure about whether hydraulic fracturing is safe, do your own independent research to satisfy yourself.  The most important advice is to be confident in your knowledge and as an ambassador of our industry.  This means, always remain calm, secure in your facts.  If someone tries to argue without civility, walk away.

Family holidays were never meant to be contentious.

How have you handled difficult family situations in the past? What did I miss that has worked for you?