November 16, 2020

Even though the holidays may look different this year due to COVID-19, they can still be a time for celebration. As you approach holiday table conversations, please remember that 2020 has been an emotionally intense and overwhelming year for many. So, whether your family celebrations take place in person or virtually, it’s quite possible that divisive topics are on people’s minds. Emotionally charged discussions often make the atmosphere tense and can cause rifts with those we’re close to.

  • Try not to go into a family gathering or Zoom call ready to battle. After all, that’s not the reason for coming together, and minds are unlikely to be changed in heated discussion.

You may have strong feelings about certain topics and be inclined to air them, but understand that the momentary satisfaction of doing so might come at the cost of an otherwise pleasant day. It’s ok to put big topics aside for a day and allow others some grace.

  • Check your motivations for engaging in an exchange. Do you want to connect with someone? Or do you want to “win”? Combative conversations tend to cause people to become even further entrenched in their beliefs.

Instead, try entering a discussion with the intention of learning. Why does someone feel the way they do? Why is a certain topic important to them? A curious approach facilitates understanding.

  • When sharing your own viewpoint, offer a story that illustrates why you feel a certain way about a position or topic. Use “I” statements to explain how you’ve come to hold your opinions.
  • Avoid statistics. Everyone has their own set to suit their purposes.
  • Don’t generalize, and don’t assume that just because someone feels a certain way about topic A, you automatically know their stance on topics B, C, and D.
  • Never belittle.
  • If you know ahead of time there are people who like to bring up contentious issues, have a strategy to steer the conversation away. It’s okay to have boundaries around topics that make you uncomfortable. If someone brings up politics and you don’t wish to engage, you can try “It sure is an interesting time in our country.” If they persist, you might try “I appreciate your passion, but it seems like this could lead to disagreement. Could we talk about something else?” or “I’d much rather hear about how your kids are doing.”

You can also listen to Keeping Politics in Perspective, on The Family Table Podcast, for tips on talking and setting boundaries around political conversations.

View the holidays as an opportunity to explore kindness and empathy, not “dig into the trenches,” and you might begin to relieve some of your holiday stress.