Dr. Nicole Jackson talks about how having political conversations during Thanksgiving doesn’t always have to create an uncomfortable situation.
No doubt, for some of us, this year’s Thanksgiving togetherness — be it in-person or virtual — will lead to political conversations, which if not checked, could destroy a much-anticipated family gathering.
But there are ways to ease or even escape potentially heated post-election debates.
“It is very common for family members to have opposing views on a variety of topics, but especially when it comes to politics,” says Dr. Nicole Jackson, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy.
But they don’t have to create an uncomfortable situation.
She says having discussions can actually “be a great way to learn about other perspectives and apply critical reasoning.”
To help keep opposing political views from leading to harsh, rude or negative comments, she suggests using what she refers to as “I” statements to show that thoughts and feelings pertain to the speaker and are not necessarily agreed upon by others. “Rather than saying, ‘This election isn’t over,’ you could try saying ‘I don’t believe the election is over yet,’” Jackson said. “This will help diffuse a situation as the listener is less likely to become defensive or argumentative.
“Another way to handle opposing views is to validate the other person,” she said. “We can validate someone’s thoughts and feelings without having to agree with them.”
According to wikihow.com, “Politics and religion are topics that are often avoided in public settings, and this can be especially true when with family (when) people often feel more comfortable and less controlled, making them more likely to be offensive or vulnerable.”
The site stresses that “a discussion on a controversial topic such as politics requires willing participants, open minds and calm demeanors.”
In some groups, the best bet is to avoid political talk altogether.
“If you know that politics is a source of tension for your family or often leads to arguments, introducing a no political talk rule can be beneficial,” Jackson said. “The best way to introduce this rule would be to have the discussion with family members prior to Thanksgiving. You can explain that the political climate has been very stressful for you and that you’d like to keep Thanksgiving focused on spending time together and exploring what everyone is grateful or thankful for. This gives everyone a chance to process and prepare what they can and cannot talk about.”
She stresses that setting the rule ahead of time can be helpful, but there are no guarantees that everyone will follow it. “If politics becomes a topic of conversation, you can say, ‘I hear your point, but I don’t want to discuss politics tonight,’ or ‘I understand what you’re saying, but I’d rather talk about something else.’”
She proposes a change of topic to one you feel more comfortable talking about. “One way to do this can be to suggest everyone goes around the room and shares what they are thankful for,” Jackson said. “This helps bring the conversation back to neutral and allows everyone to participate and contribute.”
An Oxy.com recommendation is to “pick your battles.” If confronted, it says to ask yourself, “Do I need to have this conversation now?” Am I trying to understand or just pick a fight?” and “Will I actually change anyone’s mind?”
The Awareness, Courage and Love Global Project advises moving away from current events and asking aged-old questions like, “How did your parents meet?” or “Did you have a teacher who made a difference in your life?”
Jackson said, “It’s important that adults recognize who is around when having political conversations. It’s OK to disagree with another family member, but you will want to be mindful of how you disagree,” she said. “Children are always observing adult interactions and will use these interactions as road maps for when they are in a disagreement with someone.”
Bottom line, she said, is, “Families do not have to avoid political conversations if everyone is being open-minded and respectful of all differing thoughts and opinions.”
Mixing Thanksgiving and Politics (Gleaned from Wikihow.com):
- Avoid political triggers.
- Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them.
- Do not interrupt when someone else is speaking. You may want to change the topic quickly but this can appear rude and provoke tempers.
- Have a way to get out of unwanted discussions ahead of time with lines like, “Thanks for sharing your perspective, but I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree” or even, “Let’s just not get into it. It’s okay that we don’t feel the same way.”
- Redirect political discussions.
- It takes two people to have a political discussion.
- Only partake in conversations that you know will remain calm and respectful. Watch your own anger.
- Change the subject by bringing up something tangentially related that’s less loaded.
- Seek out common ground, something you can agree on.
- Contribute your opinion without being argumentative. You may not change minds, but you can learn something about another person and give that person a chance to learn something about you.