By Analeigh Hughes

Thanksgiving and the holiday season are rapidly approaching. While we often look forward to spending time with family and friends, certain parts of family get-togethers are more enjoyable than others. Politics and current events often make their way into holiday dinner discussion, and it’s very rare that every person around the dinner table shares the same views and opinions. It may be tempting to run and hide in the bathroom when your family dinner turns into a heated debate, but there are plenty of ways to survive (and possibly even diffuse) these situations. Here are a few suggestions:

Create a No-Politics Zone

The best way to solve a problem is to try to keep it from happening. At the beginning of your family get-together, you can announce that you want to keep this event free of political talk. If you’re nervous about bringing this up yourself, talk to an older family member beforehand who you think may be on your side to see if they will make the announcement for or with you. If anything political starts to make its way into conversation, gently remind everyone about the agreement you made at the beginning.

Don’t Engage

Although it’s important to speak up for what you believe in, in situations like this, it may be worth more to just stay quiet. Your family will always be there, so it’s probably not  a good idea to get into a fight with a relative who you’re going to see at every family event. There’s a time and place to have a serious conversation about politics, and this is probably not the best time.

Think Before You Speak

If you’re going to get involved in a political conversation, be careful about what you say. It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment and blurt something out without thinking, especially if the topic is something you’re extremely passionate about. If a comment is made that you want to respond to, take a moment before you say something. Calm yourself, and think through exactly what you want to say. Try posing your statements as questions, which is less accusatory and actually may help open up the dialogue.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Trying to change people’s minds can have the reverse effect if you’re not careful.

The backfire effect is a psychological theory that states when someone tries to challenge your beliefs, your beliefs get stronger. Although it can be challenging to have a conversation with someone who has opposite beliefs, it is possible. Make sure that your points are not too complicated or lengthy. Simpler explanations are easier to process. Repeat your beliefs and not the ones of the person you are taking to, because they’re more likely to tune everything else out if they hear what they want. Encourage the person to feel skeptic or uncertain about the opposing beliefs, and to do their own research on them.

Although conversations at family events can become stressful, it is important to not let them ruin a good time. Differences in political beliefs shouldn’t get in the way of spending time with family and friends, which is what the holiday season is all about. Coming up with a plan for how to handle political conversations at family gatherings will help you feel less stressed and more confident heading into this holiday season.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stacy’s Flickr account.

Analeigh Hughes is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at analeigh@terpmail.umd.edu.

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