Handling Family Conversations During an Election Cycle

It is no secret that an election season can be stressful, and this year is certainly no exception for many of us. The charged atmosphere surrounding politics these days make it difficult to manage political differences with family and friends. It seems like there are two options for engaging in political conversations- you can either sit back quietly or engage in a full-on debate. Realizing you have different beliefs than someone you care about can be awkward and uncomfortable. It can be difficult to avoid starting a debate with that person, but once a debate is started, many struggle to keep their composure. This can be harmful to our relationships and can even cause irreplaceable damage.

Here are some tips on how to navigate political differences, or even debates, with loved ones without damaging relationships:

  1. Be Kind:

-RESPECT! – Remember you are having a conversation with someone who is important    to you.

-Be mindful of your words and tone- do not be hostile or combative.

-Avoid using polarizing language and personal attacks.

-Avoid saying things like “How can you believe that?” or “How can you think that?” –no one will respond well to this.

-Listen! – Do not shout or talk over the other person. Remember the other person is still human, so be willing to hear what they have to say.

  1. Find Areas Where You Agree and Focus on Those:

-This is where actively listening is important! You might find that you have some concerns or viewpoints in common. Then, areas of disagreement will feel less intense. For example, you may have different opinions about gun control, but the same concern for kids’ safety.

-Ask the person to elaborate. What gets them to that belief? Try to engage with them by asking questions and understand the other person’s position without strongly reacting. Be curious and open minded as you seek understanding.

  1. Establish Your Conversation Goals:

-What do you want to achieve from the conversation? Are you trying to change the person’s mind or better understand their viewpoint?

  1. Stay Calm if Tensions Rise:

-Prepare how you might react in advance to increase your own self-control. Only you can control your emotions! Commit to noticing your body sensations of anger and/or agitation and use the following ideas to self-regulate:

-Take deep breaths to avoid getting worked up or excuse yourself to another room to get a drink or use the restroom.

-Help yourself slow the pace of the conversation by saying something like “I think its important for me to take a moment to think about this.”

  1. Realize You May Not Change Minds:

-The odds are unlikely that you will change someone’s mind over a fight at dinner or on the phone with a friend.

-Use the conversation as an opportunity to share views, not convince the other person your view is best.

-A good mindset to adopt: You are there to listen and understand- not to persuade.

  1. It is Okay to Disagree with Someone You Care About:

-You will not always agree with everyone and that is okay!

-Personal opinions and beliefs are what make us unique.

-It might be hard to accept that a loved one has a different opinion but trying to understand their viewpoint will lead to a healthier relationship.

  1. Know When it is Best to End the Conversation:

-If the discussion has not come to a resolution and does not seem like it will, find a way to peacefully end the discussion.

-Politely change the topic to something more neutral or suggest engaging in another activity instead.

-Maintain the relationship- Keep participating in activities you enjoy together.

  1. Be Proactive:

-If you are concerned that difficult political conversations may occur at family gatherings, try to remember that family gatherings are about bringing people together.

-Focus on the good memories you have had with family members, as well as what you have in common.

-Plan activities that foster fun and laughter to avoid more difficult topics of discussion.

-If you think a heated discussion may occur, limit alcohol consumption.

-Be mindful about other people’s limitations. Trying to force conversations or arguments could lead to serious mental and physical health outcomes.

  1. If an Argument or Heated Exchange Does Occur:

-Take a moment to reset and reorient yourself. Pay attention to your body’s physiological warnings. Take a deep breath.

-Change the subject or politely walk away.

-Remember- you can disagree and still be friends.


Tips for Handling Political Conversations on Social Media:

-Before you send or respond to something, take a moment. Write your response somewhere separate, walk away, and revisit it. Take out inflammatory parts. Think about what you are really trying to say and how it might be received.

-Remember how important it is to listen to another viewpoint.

-Practice empathy- We are all individuals with our own opinions. Resist demonizing people.

-Step away if needed- log off, put your phone away, or remove yourself from social media for a while.

-Shift your attention to something happy to get what is getting you irritated out of your consciousness.