How to Handle Politics With the Family Over the Holidays
A familiar scenario for so many of us: You’re at the dinner table (and these days, it might be over Zoom). It’s a holiday or just another gathering, and you spark up a conversation with someone who shares a completely different viewpoint than you do about a host of things.
The disagreement might be about politics, religion, or just values—and if it feels nerve-wracking to enter those conversations with the people you love, you're not alone.
Research shows that about 59% of families are open about talking in politics, but 40% try to avoid it.
When those conversations do take place: It's normal for it to feel overwhelming or anxiety-provoking. And when conversations get heated, it can cause stress and discomfort.
While we're in the midst of a fraught time and those conversations are rolling in, it’s helpful to be prepared and understand exactly what you can control in discussions with others who have different perspectives.
Here are some tried-and-true tips that Nedra Tawwab, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., shared with us:
Before You Get to the Dinner Table:
Remember to not take things personally.
It’s human to internalize what people say, especially when it's a conversation about things you care about deeply. But one of the key things you can do is remember that the opinions of others (even if they’re about you) do not change your worth or the things you choose to believe in.
By shaking off the urge to personalize everything that someone else says, you’re owning a bit more of your power.
When you're having difficult conversations with loved ones, try to separate their words from your relationship with them.
“People have different preferences but that doesn’t negate their role in the lives of who they are to us,” Tawwab says.
Reminding yourself of that can help you navigate the complex dynamics that might reveal themselves over the course of a conversation.
Set a goal for the conversation.
Setting a goal for a conversation might not be the most intuitive thing to do, but if you’re expecting to have a disagreement it can be helpful.
Two important goals to consider: That you might not change anyone’s mind, and that you have the power to set boundaries if needed.
If you’re able to have a healthy disagreement (key word: healthy) with someone, then you might not need to set a goal—but if you’re unsure, make sure you’re protecting your energy.
Don’t forget: You have the authority to set any boundaries if you feel uncomfortable.
While You’re at the Dinner Table:
Remember it’s OK if people think differently than you.
We all have different life experiences that impact how we approach our day-to-day lives, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
Try pausing and taking a moment to remember that healthy disagreements can lead to stronger relationships, more opportunities to grow, and a chance for you to reflect on how your life has led you to the values you currently hold.
Don’t be afraid to lean into your story.
With that being said, who you’re talking to might not be able to understand where you’re coming from.
When we’re debating intimate topics like politics, religion, race, gender, and sexual identity, bringing in personal anecdotes can better help people understand your perspective and, ultimately, your point of view.
Using personal stories that are from your life can help humanize topics that often are seen at face-value.
“I think a lot of times when people are really committed to something one person thinks is unfair, it’s often because they're not personally affected by it,” Tawwab says. “If you share that personal story or give a personal reference, maybe that is a way to connect on a deeper level and spark some change."
Share your story if you feel comfortable, but remember that it’s OK to not open up if it doesn’t feel right.
Know how to spot when a healthy disagreement turns unhealthy.
Some conversations get out of control and can start to become unhealthy. When this happens, it’s often best to leave the conversation alone—especially if it becomes unproductive.
“If you start to raise your voice, if you’re yelling, or you start to feel your blood pressure rise or notice yourself feeling angry—those are all indicators that you need to exit the conversation,” Tawwab says.
If you’re not sure how to disengage, Tawwab suggests saying something like: Hey, I’m noticing that we’re arguing. I’m more interested in a healthy discussion and this doesn’t feel too healthy right now, so let’s agree to disagree and maybe revisit this conversation once we’re in a better environment.
After the Conversation:
Take some time to reflect.
According to a recent study, disagreements with loved ones might have some hidden benefits.
When it comes to politics, research shows that conversations where two people disagree can help individuals make better decisions based on specific policies rather than party loyalty. It helps you better connect with your values versus a party's stance.
If you've had a disagreement with someone, ask yourself these reflection questions to grow from it:
●︎ Are there things that I learned from this conversation?
●︎ How well was I able to have my voice and ideas heard?
●︎ What might I do differently next time?
●︎ Am I proud of doing or saying anything in particular?
●︎ Are there next steps we can take to make sure it remains a healthy discussion?
Regardless of what time of year it is or where the conversation takes place, standing up for what you believe in is a great reminder of your power—and that’s something a discussion can never take away.
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