Don't let political disagreements ruin holiday gatherings

Don't let political disagreements ruin holiday gatherings

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According to a recent poll, 1-in-5 voters said political disagreements have hurt relationships with family and friends. In response many people choose to just not discuss politics with anyone who doesn't share their views.

But what if the person you disagree with is your aunt Ruth who's flying in from Topeka and has already announced she can't wait to see you and catch up?

Besides spending weeks in complete dread and the whole holiday hiding in the kitchen, it's possible to come to the holiday table feeling at least a little bit prepared.

“Don’t enter into a conversation where you're going to disagree if you don’t want to sit and listen to the other person’s point of view," said Jamie Clayton, CEO of Oakland Family Services. "A lot of the time, we’re not listening. We’re trying to come up with our own comeback. You can have discussions and you can disagree without being disagreeable.”

In a recent article, Forbes.com offered several ideas for how to approach family gatherings where everyone is definitely not on the same side of the political fence.

One suggestion is to decide beforehand politics will remain off the table. Instead, come up with ideas for what you would like to discuss — gratitude is always a winner. What's everyone grateful for during the holiday season? What has everyone been especially appreciative of this year in their career, relationships and life? Maybe some family members have travel adventures to share or new little ones to oooh and ahhh over.

Granted, family members can be good, either consciously or not, at pushing one's buttons, so think through beforehand how you want to react if that happens. If a friend or relative brings up politics just to get a reaction, remain calm. How you react is up to you. Step back. Take a breath. Don't engage. Move on.

If you do decide to have a conversation, be prepared to listen. And don't expect to change the other person's mind. Suzanne Degges-White, a counseling professor at Northern Illinois University, recommends keeping the topics about individual issues.

"Attacking someone’s favorite sports team is not a battle you will ever win. So why try with someone’s political point of view?" she said.

Bringing an issue down to something personal can be helpful as a way to connect — either sharing a personal story related to the topic or creating a scenario that makes it personal. Degges-White said, "For example, with the issue of equal pay for women, say something like, ‘Now how would you feel if your daughter worked just as hard as a man in her office but was paid much less?’"

Even approaching a conversation in this manner may not change a person's mind or allow them to see your point of view. Before beginning a conversation, ask yourself, "Is that OK?" If you're not prepared to agree to disagree when all is said and done, then don't bring it up.

Dr. Vaile Wright, a researcher at the American Psychological Association, said, “Even if you are the best communicator in the world, you still may not get the outcome you want.”

In sharing your views and responding to others, be careful to avoid labels, characterizations and othering. Saying things like "you're all socialists" or "they're all racists" doesn't engage the individual. It pushes them away with preconceived ideas about who they are and what they think.

Othering removes the idea of individuality and allows for a group of people who share a similar trait to be categorized and often written off or mistreated. "The homeless" or "the immigrants" are examples. Try instead talking about individuals who are without shelter or people who have fled from their own country to create a better life. Take out the "the" and remember every group name created is just a bunch of people with individual stories. That includes "the Democrats" and "the Republicans."

There are organizations all over the country conducting workshops in how to communicate over disagreements. Braver Angels is a national movement to bridge the partisan divide. The nonprofit actively brings together "blues" and "reds" and every color in between in order to discuss differences.

There is a new chapter of Braver Angels in Northeast Ohio with several Wayne County members already. The Braver Angels website says, "If you're heartsick about the rancor tearing us apart, if you believe that your opponents should not be your enemies, if you believe that America's best days can be ahead of her, you need Braver Angels, and we need you. Braver Angels offers free online workshops open to members and nonmembers" (www.braverangels.org/events/).

Monica Guzman, author of "I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times,"said in a Braver Angels podcast that curiosity is the key.

“When you are judgmental, you can’t be curious,” she said, “and when you are curious, you can’t be judgmental.”

She said the only way to navigate these conversations is through a detached spirit of curiosity, where learning is more important than fixing.

According to Chris Westfall in Forbes, "A respectful approach isn't surrender; it's wisdom. Let go of the need to fix, to correct, to win. Focus on what matters most: keeping calm, staying curious and reminding uncle Tim that your relationship is much more important than who he voted for in the last election."