How to navigate political conversations with family during the holidays

Talking politics during holidays

Kate Erickson, Staff Writer

Family members can be a gift. For many, they provide support during times of need, they love unconditionally and they help create lasting memories; but this does not mean they cannot have skewed political beliefs. 


While the holiday season is a wonderful time of year that brings families together from near and far to enjoy each other’s company, holiday reunions may trigger relatives to engage in uncomfortable political conversations. 


Maybe it is the racist grandpa, that one cousin who believes that “9/11 was an inside job” or maybe it is you. All families have at least one member that ruins holiday dinner. 


One cannot choose their family, but one can choose what to say to them when a political conversation begins to stir during the holidays. 


If venturing into a possibly risky conversation with family, it is vital to keep a few things in mind:


Arguing without knowing the relevant information on a given topic is a bad idea; do some research beforehand. People who aim to argue for the sake of arguing do not bring anything meaningful to the table, literally and figuratively.


To spark conversation, asking relatives nonjudgmental questions is effective. When they answer, absorbing what is being said and asking follow-up questions is a much better response than planning a rebuttal. Going into these conversations with the motive to change someone’s mind, will only lead to heightened tensions. Indeed, changing someone’s opinions takes longer than a family dinner. 


Summarizing the main points being presented, and addressing the feelings involved, is a respectful way to practice and exhibit attentive listening. As opposed to constantly looking for a challenge, finding common ground and sharing personal experiences is a healthy way to bond. 


Even with a solid frame for conversation, sometimes there are topics of conversation that are better left untouched. Some subjects may be too triggering or emotional, either personally or for family members; it is important not to ignore this. If there is a topic that you cannot discuss without being cool, calm and collected, expressing this politely — yet firmly — can stop a conversation from becoming harmful. The key is to be aware of tone and body language. Being too confrontational will only stifle the festive atmosphere. 


A successful celebration is one in which all in attendance have the opportunity to make new friends, catch up with old ones and strengthen bonds. Engaging in political conversation may offer the opportunity to learn something, but it must be recognized that these conversations are a slippery slope. 


It is also important to remember that there are conversational topics other than politics, and that relatives have characteristics other than their political affiliations. Asking family members about their favorite music, which holiday food they are looking forward to the most or what their current favorite TV show is can also generate fun family exchanges.


The truth matters and it is important to stand up for what you think is right, but minds will not change in a matter of hours. Family members should not be excused when they are wrong, but sometimes it is important to put aside political affiliation and differences to simply love those around you. Family members, no matter how frustrating they may be, are a privilege even if they might not seem like it.