8 tips for Surviving Political Conversations with family, post-election 2016!

These last few weeks have been filled with a lot of arguing, disagreement and often a sense of distancing from those who we disagree with, especially post-election 2016.  Our family tends to be the place where we aren’t inside of the “echo-chamber” of social media, since we didn’t choose who to be related to.  We often surround ourselves with like-minded folks, and with the holidays upon us, there are going be a lot of opportunities to be surrounded by differently-minded folks.  If you happen to be 100% politically aligned with all of your close and extended family, then you are likely an anomaly this year, and this article may not be for you.

There are likely to be opportunities to talk politics while visiting with family over the holidays, and many activists are encouraging these conversations in order to heal the divide in the country, to be vigilant in maintaining human and environmental rights, and to help family members challenge assumptions they have made about each other as a result of their candidate choices.  Here are a few tips for surviving the holidays outside of the echo-chamber.

1.       Decide before you go…   Am I willing and ready to engage my family in political conversations?  If not, then have a few strategies to use in case you need to excuse yourself from the conversations if they do arise.  You can be as direct as, “I’m just not willing or able to have a civil conversation about this with you.” Or you could use the “pivot” method:  “That’s an interesting question, will you please pass the mashed potatoes?”  or “I don’t know about that, but I do know that this pumpkin pie is going to be incredible!”  If you don’t think you’re slick enough to distract with other topics of food or life, then feel free to excuse yourself to the bathroom or to help clean up the kitchen.  If you are willing and able to have conversations about politics with your family, then keep reading.

2.       Check in with yourself about your intention.  Family arguments often come from a very real difference of deep values.  These values have been formed over a lifetime and don’t generally change after an argument over the homemade stuffing.  For example, no one has ever stopped being a racist or whiny just because you called them a “racist” or “crybaby”, or calmed down just because you told them to.  This type of labeling or demanding often only evokes defensiveness and tends to further drive home the values held by others because they feel the need to prove their beliefs. If your true intention is to seek to change these deep held values and beliefs in someone, then try sharing your experience, only speaking for yourself.  Try listening and reflecting what you are hearing without judgement.  When others hear their own words reflected to them, it is easier for them to change their own view.  Having a willingness to change is the first step, and this willingness is not produced through insults, defensiveness or threats.  This goes for yourself as well.  If you aren’t willing to see things differently than you already do, it isn’t reasonable to expect that from others.  This doesn’t mean that you are expected to change your morality, it’s simply saying that you are able to see things from a different viewpoint. Take intentional action towards supporting your beliefs, and realize that it’s your own decision to do so, while also understanding that others don't mean you harm just because they have different priorities than you.

3.       Seek to understand and be understood:  Speaking with a respectful tone, using calm and neutral language and seeking clarity is how conflicts resolve.  When you are speaking respectfully, it is more likely that you will be spoken to respectfully.  If you are truly trying to understand someone else’s point of view, you will be truly listening and reflecting what you are hearing and understanding before you are responding with your own ideas.  There’s also nothing wrong with setting up some basic boundaries with your family before you get too far into a conversation.  Try saying something like, “I’d truly like to understand where you are coming from, and hopefully explain where I am coming from.  Can we promise to stay respectful of each other while we talk about this?”

4.       Recognize that emotions cannot be wrong.  Your feelings are always valid, and other people’s feelings are valid as well.  It’s the responses to how we or others feel that can make or break a resolution to conflict.  We are often frustrated when others say they are angry or sad about something we said or did, and we wish they wouldn’t feel that way.  You aren’t in control of anyone’s emotions other than your own.  It’s okay to name this, and express your hopes.  “I wish that what I said hadn’t upset you, and I think I understand why you are upset.” Then try explaining the “why.”  If you don’t really understand, then practice some very basic empathy.  Brene Brown does a great job in this video of explaining empathy.

5.       Use valid information to explain your beliefs.  We live in the information age.  In fact, this is probably the 4th or 5th article you’ve read just today, if not more!  We watch videos, listen to podcasts, read articles, watch TV, and absorb so many more media inputs.  There are many opinion pieces out there, and when you align with an opinion piece, ask yourself why you align and speak from that place.  If you are citing a factual analysis, a news report, etc..  Then take 30 seconds to use PolitiFact, Snopes, or any number of fact checking websites to be sure that you are receiving the most well balanced information to talk about, and also that support your beliefs effectively.  Also, be open to being corrected by family members and asking them more about why they believe what they do.  Too often, we find ourselves ready to dismiss the feelings or fact-checking of those that we feel to be “on the other side” because we assume they don’t hurt the way we do, or that they are lying - simply because it doesn’t align with what we already know or believe.

6.       Avoid being too intoxicated.  We know that sometimes “a little too much” can turn into a messy scene, especially when politics are on the table.  If you are choosing to engage in drinking or drug use during your holiday festivities, think about how this can affect your ability to follow some of this advice..  If you’re too intoxicated to drive, you’re probably too intoxicated to talk politics.

7.       Find common ground.  There's a lot to feel divided about right now, and there are a lot of opportunities to find things in common.  If you are able to break bigger ideas down to some base values, you may find that you are much more in line than you originally thought.  Sometimes, we just disagree on the best way to live and support those values, and not as much that the values are all that different.  Finding every opportunity to agree throughout a difficult political discussion can really break down barriers to communication and understanding.  A few things you may all agree about:  You appreciate the opportunity to live in a country where free speech is legal.  You think there are some issues with the way the government has been run in the past.  You really wished that you had one candidate to vote for that aligned with all of your values, not just some.  Etc…

8.       Remember that you are family.  These people are and will be a part of your life in some way, for the rest of your life.  You have an opportunity to truly bond and enjoy conversations with them.  You do not have to agree with them to have love for them.  Certainly, disagreement does not have to equal hatred. 

Happy Holidays! 

Robin FunstenComment