04 Dec Tip #2: How to turn a political shouting match into new opportunities for connection
As you get ready for your first family gathering of the season, are visions of last year’s screaming match between your Uncle, yourself, and first cousin are already dancing in your head? Here are some tips to consider before getting into a political debate over dessert.
Everyone has a political opinion, and just because you are a family, doesn’t mean you all voted for the same person, have the same values, or believe in the same ideals. Our politics can be deeply personal, and when someone doesn’t support what we see as an important issue that affects our lives, it can feel very hurtful. Some people love to talk politics, and others hate it, so how can we create a space where everyone can enjoy the festivities instead of a screaming match over the latest political topic to debate?
As you get ready for your first family gathering of the season, are visions of last year’s screaming match between your Uncle and first cousin are already dancing in your head? Here are some tips to consider before getting into a political debate over dessert.
Choose dialogue over debate: In this article from Yes Magazine on “How to Talk About Social Justice With Your Family During the Holidays”, they help us define the difference between dialogue and debate: “Dialogue is a shared learning experience, meaning people are open to sharing points of view and listening to others. Debate is the opposite. “In a debate or argument we take on adversarial roles and are combative and defensive… It is all about being right and proving the other person wrong”.
When we choose to dialogue, it means we are open to learning from each other. When we show the other person that we care about them by taking the time to listen to their point of view before jumping in with our opinion about how everything they are saying is wrong, the conversation can relax and turn into a journey you are both taking together. This is when mutual understanding and surprisingly common ground can emerge, helping you to feel closer, not further apart, from your family members.
To create the possibility of dialogue instead of debate:
Consider and communicate your Intent: When things get tough and your relative just said something that made your skin crawl, take a few very big breaths and ask yourself: what is my intent right now with this person?
Your intention is NOT your first reaction to their statement. So, if your first thought is “I want to show them what an idiot they are”, that is probably coming from a place of hurt instead of compassion. Look deeper:
What do you want to get out of this encounter? Why?
How do you want yourself and the other person to feel when you’re done conversing on this topic? Why?
If and when possible, consider your intention for how you want to handle any familial conflict in advance, so that you can say it to yourself like a mantra when your patience is tested in the moment. Create a simple sentence that clearly conveys your intention for why you are engaging with them on any challenging topic. Your intention can be conveyed simply, such as:
“I know that we have different points of view on these issues, but I’d really like this opportunity for us to talk with each other peacefully and maybe learn a little bit more about why each of us feel so passionately about the topic.”
“I would really like to understand better where you are coming from, and I’d like to share with you why this issue is important to me so that we can understand each other better.”
Or, if you have decided you don’t want to engage in these topics at all, you can say something like:
“I know this issue is very important to you, but right now my intention for our time together is to relax and have fun…” then have a quick topic changer planned to introduce and shift the conversation.
Ask for clarity on what their Intention is: Don’t assume you know why they are bringing this topic up, or what they want to achieve by talking with you about it. Before you bristle and start your pre-planned essay of facts that you feel disprove their point of view, ask for their guidance on what they want out of this conversation to evaluate whether they themselves are ready for a debate, or open to dialogue. You could say something like “Thank you for feeling comfortable enough with me to bring up a tough topic. Can I ask you why you want to talk with me about this? What do you hope will be the outcome of our conversation?”
Find your common ground:
Throughout the dialogue, keep asking questions to help you look deeper for the common ground you share. Whether we agree on a political policy or not, we as humans share some fundamental life intentions:
We all want ourselves and our families to be safe and happy.
We all have dreams we want to achieve.
We all want to feel heard and respected.
Whenever possible, bring the conversation back to the common ground that you both agree on, this creates a clear place where you can both find understanding with each other, and often shifts the conversation from both sides feel threatened, to one where we remember and respect our common humanity.
Ask more questions: As a good friend of mine likes to say, “Questions bring us to together, answers tear us apart” and this couldn’t be more true than in a family fight. Take the time to understand their point of view as fully as you can first. This helps people feel heard and respected instead of rejected or belittled. Then, offer to share your thoughts on the topic and invite them to ask you questions about why you feel the way you feel. You will have a much better chance of creating shared understanding, and even changing minds, if you fully understand why the other person feels the way they do.
Share how you feel: Is the topic getting heated, and does it upset you? Speak in “I” statements about how you feel and share that this is a difficult topic for you to discuss. For example, you could say something like “This topic is really close to my heart, and so it’s hard for me sometimes to stay calm in these discussions. I may need to take a break at some point, but I want you to know that I love you and I want to understand your point of view as much as I want you to understand mine too.”
Ask them how talking about this issue makes them feel. Building empathy with “the other side” can do wonders in creating connection, respect, and understanding.
Close the topic peacefully: You have the right to stop the discussion at any time. It could be because it is not your intention for the holiday season to singlehandedly solve the health care problems of your country. It could be because you have tried everything you can to come to mutual understanding and it’s clear that the other person is not able to have a peaceful dialogue with you right now. Or maybe you notice the discussion is creating unnecessary tension for others in your family.
Here are a few ways you can gracefully bow out of the conversation:
“I respect how passionate you are about this topic, but it is not something I want to discuss right now” then you can change the topic to something else, or suggest another time and place to continue the dialogue, like going for coffee.
If the person refuses to stop the conversation, you have every right to leave the room, go talk to someone else, or even leave the party of it is an unsafe space for you. It is okay to take care of yourself and exit situations that are toxic for you.
- Dialogue, don’t debate.
- Get clear on your intention.
- Understand their intention.
- Find your common ground.
- Ask more questions.
- Share how you feel.
- Close the topic peacefully.
We wish you a beautiful family gathering where political clashes can turn into opportunities for a closer connection and mutual understanding between you your loved ones. Good luck!
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