How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, a Michigan Medicine psychiatrist offers strategies for how to be mindful of depression and anxiety symptoms around the topic.

How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

No matter what your political beliefs or affiliations, it’s safe to say all Americans are now living through a unique moment in our nation’s history. The past few months have brought daily headlines that have added to the intense feelings that many people of all convictions have felt since the last presidential election – especially younger people who are thinking about what their future might hold.

For some, seeing news about the turmoil in Washington, D.C., with major headlines every day, may cause distress. Others, on all sides of the current debates, may feel personally attacked by major ideological differences among their fellow Americans, or the actions of people at different levels of government. And others may perceive opposing views from friends or family members as a sense of betrayal.

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Even apolitical Americans may experience second-hand stress from the constant exposure to political turmoil and arguments between individuals or groups. And the 24/7 news and social media cycles don’t help, making the entire matter seem impossible to avoid.

Signs of political fatigue

Now with the holidays around the corner, worries might be growing that reunions with relatives and friends will include conversations about more than that amazing stuffing recipe.

“People talk about traditional ways they share holidays with family, and how now, given this political climate, they’re changing plans to avoid meeting with family members who have differing views,” says Michelle Riba, M.D., M.S. , psychiatrist and associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center .

Riba says these conversations may be challenging to entertain and you may not realize how they might be effecting your health. Signs that you’re overloaded and overwhelmed by political content, or national and world events, include:

A higher blood pressure than usual.

Weight gain or loss.

Anxious or worried feelings.

Drastic mood changes.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, Riba says that they shouldn’t be ignored. These long-lasting symptoms could take a serious toll on a person’s wellbeing.

Ways to de-stress

“I’m not a politician, but I want to be able to help my patients,” says Riba. “If it’s important to my patients, it’s important to me.”

Here she offers five ways you can be more thoughtful about what you’re consuming and exposing others to:

1. Be aware of how much time you spend engaging with political content.

Do you wake up and turn on the television to watch the morning news? Do you listen to radio commentary on your commute to work? Do you follow politicians on Twitter and check your social feeds often?

“Think about how this content makes you feel when you consume it,” says Riba. “If it makes you anxious or depressed, figure out from what sources you can cut the intake from.”

Time spent engaging with political content should feel like quality time. Riba suggests limiting content to fact-based, reputable or primary sources, like national news outlets. The intake may personally feel more valuable than reading the constant highlights from trending Twitter topics or Facebook groups aimed at people with particular views or affiliations.

2. Be mindful of your surroundings when sharing opinions.

How do you talk about politics in the home, at work or with friends? While educating or sharing thoughts on a certain political topic may promote engaged citizenship, it can also negatively affect bystanders.

On the other hand, during a stressful or difficult time, children in the home may benefit from adult oversight or guidance.

Some children may be struggling to understand the current political climate, and if you sense your child is one of them this may be a great opportunity to have an engaging, balanced conversation about current events.

But remember, “never make assumptions about other people, even your friends and family,” says Riba. “They might not think or feel the way you do, so when you start a political discussion, potentially causing tension or bringing up uncomfortable feelings.”

Even for like-minded, politically-engaged individuals, be conscious that the other person may be trying to limit the amount of political exposure.

3. Be open to learning about other points of view.

Imagine you’re at a gathering with relatives and someone brings up politics. What may initially cause dread can be reframed as an educational opportunity.

There are reasons why people feel the way they do about certain issues, or people, and someone may not ever know why unless they ask and are ready to listen. That interaction may also bring up a topic or person the other wants to learn more about.

“If you’re not familiar with something brought up, ask questions about it, and where they learned that from or why that’s important to them,” says Riba.

Anticipating differences in opinions, as opposed to assuming those close to you think the same way you do, can help prepare yourself for difficult conversations and save yourself from the disenchantment.

Balanced, respectful discussions with others can help give someone an understanding of “the other side” Riba says. Being armed with facts and a greater understanding, subsequently, can help reduce political stress.

4. Step away from conversations

If the conversation becomes one that makes you uncomfortable, Riba suggests a change in subject or taking a few minutes away from the table to preoccupy your mental space with something else.

“Maybe there’s dishes that could be washed from all the cooking earlier in the day, or an entrée that needs to be finished up,” says Riba. Slipping away without making a parting comment is probably best.

5. Self-assess your interest

“If you want to be more politically active or engaged, be proactive,” says Riba. “Be cognizant of the physical and mental health effects it has on your body and what your motivations are for being engaged.”

Assess why you consume political content, how much you consume, where you consume it from and how it makes you feel.

Maybe you’re engaged with politics because you live with someone who never turns off the news. Maybe you’re following a policy change because it’s connected to a cause you’re passionate about, or your line of work.

“While it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in our country and the world, you need to take care of yourself and mental health too,” Riba says.

Visit Michigan Medicine’s Depression Center Toolkit for more information and resources.

This article was co-authored by Chloe Carmichael, PhD. Chloe Carmichael, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist who runs a private practice in New York City. With over a decade of psychological consulting experience, Chloe specializes in relationship issues, stress management, self esteem, and career coaching. Chloe has also instructed undergraduate courses at Long Island University and has served as adjunct faculty at the City University of New York. Chloe completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York and her clinical training at Lenox Hill Hospital and Kings County Hospital. She is accredited by the American Psychological Association and is the author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.”

There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Most of the time when you make friends, you’re paying attention to what you have in common. You might enjoy their sense of humor, their kindness, their taste in music, or their willingness to help you out in a pinch. However, sometimes your friends will have political views that are very different from your own. Focusing on what you have in common, and learning to avoid political conversations will help you deal with friends who don’t share your own political views. When you do get into a disagreement, learning to patch things up will help your friendship endure.

Every family has that one relative that can’t stop forcing their controversial political stances down everyone’s throats. You’re home for the holidays and want to get through an enjoyable meal in peace, but they just won’t stop talking about what’s ruining America. Here’s how to deal with them and keep the holiday intact.

If you and your family love talking about politics in a civil manner , carry on. We’re not here to get in your way. What most of us don’t like is when everyone wants to have a nice dinner together and that one crazy uncle goes on a rant about how Muslim Socialist turkeys are ruining the Thanksgiving entree. Or when someone’s niece lectures everyone on how they need to reduce their microaggressions to stop global warming.

Respecting a person’s beliefs doesn’t mean they get to trample everyone else with them, especially on a holiday the whole family wants to share together. If one person insists on flapping their mouth and causing problems, here’s how to deal with them. This is not a guide on how to win an argument. We already have one of those . Instead, we want to keep the peace and enjoy the holiday, not indulge the conflict.

The Definitive Guide to Winning an Argument

Winning isn’t everything, but it sure is nice. When you don’t see eye to eye with someone, here are

Focus on the Person, Not the Belief

You don’t have to respect every single idea in the world. If you find someone’s beliefs appalling enough, you can cut them out of your life. You probably don’t invite any KKK members to go see a movie with you, for example. However, when it comes to the holidays, there’s probably a good reason that annoying person is in the house with you.

Maybe they were invited because they’re important to the host. Maybe they’re here because, despite your clearly sage advice, someone you care about is dating them. Maybe someone just didn’t want them to be alone for the holidays. There are a lot of good reasons to be open and inviting to people, no matter their political opinions, on a holiday. It’s kind of the point of holidays, isn’t it?

Before you respond to someone who starts an unwelcome political discussion, remember why they’re there. Despite your differences, you both agreed to share a few hours and a meal together. Even if they were invited by someone else, they matter to someone whose company you value. You will probably have plenty of time to argue with them on Facebook later, but for now it’s okay to prioritize the relationship you have with the people in the room first. Or, to put it more directly, you can deal with it like an adult for one day .

The Guidelines for a Rational Political Discussion with Friends and Family

Election season is drawing near and with that comes the dreaded political conversations with family

Don’t Take the Bait

When someone states a political opinion you disagree with, it feels like they’ve challenged you to a duel , with your honor on the line if you fail to accept. In reality, it’s a lot more like someone offering you a month-old muffin. You don’t have to take it, and your life will probably be worse if you do. Likewise, just because someone makes a political statement doesn’t mean you have to respond.

One of the worst things you can do when confronted with a political argument you don’t want to have, is have it. Not only because it encourages them to continue, but because now there’s two people involved. One person’s beliefs yelled into a vacuum is just a rant. Two or more people and it becomes an argument. Good job.

Not engaging can feel like losing. Especially if you have a really cantankerous person who sees your unwillingness to argue as proof they’re right . However, remember your real objective: to prevent the discussion in the first place. If they shout their ideas at you, and you don’t engage, you win. If you want to prevent a forest fire, you don’t start by lighting foliage ablaze (well, okay sometimes you do , but not in this metaphor).

Have Plenty of Distractions on Hand

Thanksgiving already comes with a few built-in distractions. There’s a big table full of food, a football game (if you’re into that sort of thing ), and you could maybe even work in some time being grateful for things . However, if you want to maintain a politics-free zone, it helps to have something else to do to distract from political discussions, before or after they occur. Here are a few ideas:

  • Watch a movie. Football is nice, but it’s not for everyone. On the other hand, the right movie can appeal to anyone. Best of all, when you’re watching, you’re not supposed to be talking. Usually . Offer to put on a nice holiday movie (hint: Die Hard) for everyone to watch after dinner and there’s an automatic distraction on the nearest TV.
  • Crank some music. If you want to take a page out of SNL’s not-as-silly-as-it-sounds playbook, override a budding political conversation by putting on a catchy song everyone will stop to listen to. Here’s a list of ten of the catchiest songs, according to scientific research . Because science always succeeds in stopping an ill-advised argument.
  • Talk to someone else. Just because your obnoxious relative is demanding your attention doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. If you don’t want to engage, end the conversation and talk to someone else. They’ll either find someone else that’s willing to listen, or drop it.
  • Talk about something else. A little rudeness can go a long way. If the conversation is coming up at the dinner table, change the subject. Rudely, if you have to. It may feel like a dick move, but chances are good that most of the other people at the table won’t begrudge you for taking one for the team. They might even leap in to help you out.

This can be a delicate balancing act, but it can also be liberating to take charge. Remember, the one person who just has to share their political views isn’t the only person at the table. This is especially important if you’re the host. Actively engaging with the other loved ones you’re there to spend time with is a great way to distract from the uncomfortable topics without ruining the day. And besides, having fun with people you care about is what you’re there for.

This Video Teaches You How to End a Conversation Gracefully

Everyone knows what it’s like to get trapped in a conversation. Even if you like the person you’re…

How to Keep a Low Profile & Stay Out of Office Gutter Politics

Office Politics? Proceed with Caution

We recently ran an article about why it’s imperative for successful employees to engage in office politics. But as in the case everywhere, reasonable people will disagree. And that includes the writers at Salary.com. So here’s the flip side of the office politics coin.

Office politics occur in most workplaces. When employees spend hours per day together and vie for the same promotions and raises, competition is inevitable. Some people claim office politics are an essential part of the workplace, but others see it as a needless and potentially lethal part of office culture that kills morale and strains relationships.

So what can you do to prevent your career and personal life from being damaged by rampant office politics and gossip?

10. Think Back to High School

In some respects, workplaces are a lot like high school. The same principles usually apply. People have cliques, and these factor into success — but if you make a misstep, you may find your reputation easily tarnished.

When you run into trouble with gossip and office politics, think about it from the perspective of an adult giving advice to a high school student. What would you say to your high school self?

9. What They Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

It’s great to have genuinely close friends with whom you also work. But if, like most people, you’re not that lucky, it might be best if your coworkers know enough about you to be able to have a friendly conversation, but not so much that any information they have could hinder your advancement. While socializing outside of work can help you advance your career, be careful — one too many drinks and your coworkers have some dirt on you.

Consider implementing a “work friends” privacy setting on your Facebook page if you’d like to friend your coworkers on social networks.

8. Communicate with Your Boss

Are you hoping to land a raise or promotion? Don’t let your boss find out about it through the grapevine. Most managers are busy — they want problem-solvers. You can make a decision easier for your boss by letting him/her know you’re interested in advancing. Your boss might also give you tips for improvement or steps you need to take to get promoted.

7. Don’t Gossip

Gossip is the easiest way to get in trouble or look immature. Nothing says “I’m not ready for a promotion” as much as trash talk. While it’s okay to socialize, you should know this by now: everything you say will come back to get you, especially when someone else can benefit from it.

6. Stay Informed

There’s a fine line between gossip and staying informed. So while you should avoid the trashy office talk, it’s still helpful to pay attention to what others say. This will prevent you from becoming ostracized. While gossips’ information isn’t necessarily reliable, you might be able to pick up on clues about upcoming promotions or major changes, such as corporate restructuring, store closures, or outsourcing.

5. Choose Your Friends Carefully

Work would become seriously intolerable without some social interaction. If you choose to socialize at work, make sure you choose your friends carefully. If someone is saying negative things about others all the time, consider becoming friends with a different coworker.

Who you befriend at work may also influence the decisions your boss makes. If you’re known to hang out with employees who don’t complete work efficiently, that may reflect poorly upon you.

4. Identify Backstabbers

As soon as you start socializing at a new job, it’s essential to identify the gossip-mongers and backstabbers. These coworkers may want to take you under their wings initially, but such “friendship” comes at a price. Hold out for a better friend — one who won’t talk negatively about you when it’s time for promotions, reviews, or layoffs.

3. Think Long-Term

It can be frustrating when you find out someone has been spreading gossip about you at work. Revenge is sweet, but you have to think about the long term.

Take the high road. You’ll be better for it in the end.

2. Don’t Vent at Work

While it can help to have a support network at work, too much complaining will leave a negative impression, especially if you complain about work.

If you feel like you’re being treated unfairly or if you find a work-related issue, bring it up with your boss. The best way to get recognition for your efforts is to ask for it.

1. They’re Watching You

We’re not trying to induce paranoia, but when you’re at work you should assume you’re being watched and that everything is a test.

Some people play games to see whether others are worthy of being trusted. Whether management trusts you with a juicy piece of gossip or a project, make no mistake: it’s a test. Your performance could determine your future at the company.

Here’s how to maintain your integrity in family relationships.

How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

Difficult people are everywhere, like it or not. It’s pretty certain that at some point in your life, you’ll come across a challenging person and will have to find a way to deal with them. It would be easy to think, “Why bother?” if being around them causes you grief. But it’s not as easy as that. Sometimes we’re just forced into situations we have little control over.

Being related is one such circumstance. In fact, family members are often the hardest to deal with, because they’re connected to us in a more complicated, intimate way. With difficult acquaintances like friends, colleagues, lovers, or neighbors, you may have to deal with them for a time, either until a conflict between you is resolved, or you are able to remove yourself from the situation. With family, we are almost obligated to go the extra mile for the sake of the integrity of the family group. In other words, personal relationships may affect the family as a whole. If you don’t get along with a family member, it may very well put stress and strain on other familial relationships as well.

So what do you do with those people you may not like very much and may not choose to have in your life, but are forced to deal with because they’re family?

1. Don’t try to fix the difficult person.

Accept them exactly as they are. (This applies to all difficult people, not just family.) It’s tempting to try to help someone you want to care about; you probably will make some efforts to help them. Sometimes it works, but often your efforts will not be rewarded. In fact, trying to fix someone or make their life better may become a huge headache, since the more you do for them, the more they want from you. Accept that they are unable to change, at least at this point in time. Unless you see real change — proof that this person is making an effort to listen and meet you halfway — you can assume that their behavior is what it has always been. It’s important to temper your expectations about what others can and want to do.

2. Be present and direct.

Know that a person who is trying to stir up conflict can easily set you off emotionally, and even physically, possibly raising your heart rate and blood pressure. Try to avoid getting into a fight-or-flight response, which inevitably leads to becoming defensive. You do not want an argument or heated discussion. Stay true to yourself, grounded in your own integrity. Be direct and assertive when you express yourself. Stay focused on how you respond. Know when the discussion or argument has accelerated to the point of no return — meaning it’s no longer about conflict resolution, but just about winning. If it gets to this point, stop the interaction, and leave the conversation.

3. Do encourage difficult people to express themselves.

Let them fully state their point of view about the issue/conflict/problem without interruption. Why do they feel judged or criticized by others? What do they feel people misunderstand about them? What do they want or expect from others? The idea is to remain as neutral as possible. Just listening, rather than trying to engage, may be enough to allow someone to feel like they have the opportunity to say what’s on their mind. Showing respect for another’s differences may go a very long way.

4. Watch for trigger topics.

Inevitably there will be topics that represent points of disagreement and disharmony. Know what these topics are, and be extremely aware when these are brought up. Your past experiences should help you, especially when you are confronted with these delicate subjects. Be prepared to address these issues in a direct, non-confrontational way or to deflect the conflict if the atmosphere becomes too heated.

5. Know that some topics are absolutely off-limits.

Period. History and experiences should tell you that these subjects should be avoided at all costs. That’s not to say that important issues should be permanently avoided. Rather, if your experience dealing with certain issues has left you stressed out or emotionally depleted, and the discussion has not progressed sufficiently along to represent a rapprochement, then it’s best to avoid the discussion until a time when both parties are willing to move it forward in a constructive way.

6. It’s not about you — usually.

Yes, it’s hard not to take things personally, especially when you’re attacked or made to feel responsible for someone else. But if you look at the anatomy of a conflict, you can see how these often play out. Notice how people progressively move through a discussion or argument. Usually, it initially centers around a specific topic/disagreement/response that made a person upset. If allowed to continue, the argument can become heated, accelerating quickly to personal attacks (which often includes trying to make you feel responsible or guilty for not responding the way someone wants you to). If you have been through this kind of interaction before, make a concerted effort to imagine it unfolding before it actually does — and then nip it in the bud.

7. Your own well-being comes first.

While you want to be respectful and attentive to others as much as you can, you don’t want to bend over backwards or twist yourself into a knot just to make someone else happy or satisfied, or to keep the peace. Never allow any personal interaction or relationship to infringe upon or challenge your own well-being. Visualize your boundaries, that protective territory between you and someone else. No one is entitled to occupy your space unless you invite them in.

And then there’s that special situation where families gather together for a special occasion or holiday. it’s best to plan ahead so that you have a good idea about how time will be spent with relatives. Don’t leave too much unplanned time; you don’t want to get into a situation where you’re left alone with a difficult family member with whom you have an issue or conflict — someone who confronts, challenges, incites, aggravates, and basically pushes your buttons. Surround yourself with people you get along with, supportive people who care about you, people who are there to enjoy time together.

Three Easy Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Relatives

How does your family know how to push your buttons? Because they installed them. Here’s how to take stress out of the holidays.

“I had a great teacher in India who said to me, ‘If you think you’re spiritual and evolved and enlightened, go home for Christmas.’” —Elizabeth Gilbert

When I was little, I had a controversial grandmother. She was the woman my grandfather remarried after my father’s mom’s premature death. We pretty much only saw her twice a year: once for a family reunion, and once for a Christmas party. I adored her (except that she always smelled like cigarettes and had a lot of rules). But my parents and aunt and uncle were very tense around her.

Fights rarely broke out at the parties—I think my grandma was too dignified for that—but I do remember a lot of stress surrounding this difficult person in our lives. She knew how to push people’s buttons.

How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

Do you have someone difficult to deal with this holiday season? Here are three strategies that work well for me.

1. Make sure the difficult person has a job to do, and then let them do it their own way.

Things were always better when my grandma had a job in the kitchen. For a lot of people, conflict is born from an unfulfilled desire to feel useful and to be a part of something larger than themselves. Start by giving the difficult person a way to focus on something besides themselves.

Tip: When you ask someone for his or her help, provide a rationale—any rationale—for the favor. One study showed that the word “because” tends to trigger automatic compliance. For instance, you might say brightly, “It would be great if you could peel the carrots, because we need the carrots peeled for dinner.” As bizarrely repetitive as that may sound, it should work better than, “Would you peel the carrots for me?”

2. Take care of your own needs first

This one is about taking precautions to keep yourself balanced and prevent your fight-or-flight response from kicking in. It’s harder to regulate your emotions when you’re tired, for example, so if you’re at a party with the difficult person and you start to feel spent, consider leaving early, lest you get sucked into a confrontation. You might risk insulting your host, but that’s generally better than ruining the party by making a scene.

Similarly, research shows that keeping your blood sugar stable will make you less aggressive if you get angry, so don’t skip a meal if you are headed into a difficult situation. If you need to leave the room and do some deep breathing, do it—even if the difficult person needs you to talk about politics right now. If we can stay calm, we are more likely to engage the brain circuits that make us better problem-solvers in challenging situations. (Also, we have more fun.)

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson’s advice can help us take this even further:

Also see how taking care of yourself has good ripple effects for others. Deliberately do a small thing that feeds you—a little rest, some exercise, some time for yourself—and then notice how this affects your relationships. Notice how healthy boundaries in relationships helps prevent you from getting used up or angry and eventually needing to withdraw.

The exception: When our “need” is to be right. Often we feel a strong desire to show the difficult person the error in his or her ways. But this won’t make the situation easier, and it won’t make us feel better in the long run. Find a different (and more positive) way to feel powerful; for example, turn your attention to helping someone in need, perhaps even the difficult person him- or herself.

3. Give up on trying to fix him or her

This means accepting the difficult person for who he or she is, including the discomfort (or even pain) that they are creating.

Practicing this sort of acceptance is about dropping the fantasy of how we think things ought to be. You might have a fantasy of a sweet, close relationship with your daughter-in-law, for example, and so you feel angry and disappointed every time she does something that doesn’t live up to this fantasy.

But be aware that she likely feels your disappointment, and feels judged. She knows you are trying to change or “fix” her, and that doesn’t feel good—it hurts her, in fact, and hurting someone, however unintentionally, does not make her easier to deal with.

An alternate approach is one of empathy. Rather than judging what the person does or says, just try to listen and understand where he or she is coming from. This doesn’t mean that you need to agree with the person, just that you’re showing him or her a basic level of respect as a human being. Research suggests that engaging with a person this way—acknowledging his or her point of view without judging it—can make him or her feel more understood… and, as a result, less defensive or difficult.

How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

Here’s how to practice acceptance and empathy: Take a deep breath. Look at the difficult person with kindness and compassion, and say to yourself, I see you, and I see that you are suffering. I accept that you are anxious and scared, even if I don’t understand why. I accept that you are making all of us anxious, too. I accept that your trouble has become my trouble for the time being. When we acknowledge and accept difficulty as something that just is, we let go of the resistance that creates stress and tension. There is a lot of truth to the adage that, “What we resists, persists.”

When this person is speaking, try not to interrupt with counter-arguments or even with attempts to try to get him or her to see things from a different, perhaps more positive point of view. Instead, try to paraphrase back to the person the points you think he or she is making, and acknowledge the emotions he or she seems to be expressing. For instance, if he seems ticked off about something, you might say, “It sounds like that really makes you angry.” In this way, you let them know that their experience matters.

We are all just looking for love and approval. This holiday season, the greatest gift we can give a difficult person—and ourselves—is to accept them fully, with love.

If you liked this post, you’ll love this printable page, 7 Ways to Feel More Loved and Connected. And my new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work , has a whole section dedicated to improving our relationships.

Helpful tips to guide conversations about sensitive topics in a more positive direction.

  • Stress
  • Politics

How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

Navigating hard conversations surrounding sensitive topics like politics, racism, religion, gun control, or abortion can cause strain on any relationship, whether it be with friends or acquaintances, co-workers, family, or even a spouse. Knowing or discovering that you have different ideologies or beliefs than those you care about can be uncomfortable, especially if you are in conversation about those topics.

According to a November 2020 APA Survey, 40% of adults say the political climate has caused strain between them and their family members. It’s important to have healthy conversations, but also to be mindful of when the discussion escalates and becomes unproductive.

Here are some helpful tips to guide the conversation in a more positive direction:

Find areas where you agree. You may disagree with someone but instead of strongly reacting, actively listen to the other person about what is important to them. For example, you might have different ideas about gun control but underneath you share the same concern for keeping your kids safe and healthy. You may find that by discussing shared viewpoints, areas of disagreement will feel less intense and your stress may decrease.

Be open and kind. When having conversations, avoid polarizing language and personal attacks. Remember with whom you are having the conversation. It may be a family member or someone important to you. Communicate effectively. Avoid having conversations on sensitive topics early in the morning or right before an important event. Try to be mindful of your words and tone and not let the conversation become hostile or combative, as that could have potential to negatively affect the relationship in the future.

Keep calm when tensions rise. Preparing for how you might react in advance of a conversation will increase your self-awareness and may give you more options if you want to de-escalate tension. If you find yourself quick to react in a heated conversation, it may benefit you to take a step back and remind yourself to be calm. Try taking deep breaths when you find yourself getting worked up or politely change the topic of conversation. Only you can control your emotions, and being aware of them will help you to lessen tension with others.

Have conversation goals. Understanding your goals when it comes to communicating with others may be helpful to having productive conversations. Whether the conversation is on a sensitive topic, such as healthcare, or not, it’s important to determine what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Is it that you want to change the person’s mind or to simply hear and better understand their point of view? Establishing easy, attainable goals when communicating with others will help to ease tension in a conversation.

Accept that you may not change the other person’s mind. When in conversation, you may notice that the other person may not agree with your opinions or statements. Having conversations, specifically on sensitive topics, will not always be easy going. Recognize that you may not be able to change their viewpoints. Use the conversation as an opportunity to share views, not to convince anyone that your view is best.

Disagreeing with someone you care about is ok. It is important to remember that you are not always going to agree with everyone. It is ok to agree to disagree. Your personal opinions and beliefs make you unique. It might be hard to accept that a loved one or friend may have opposing ideologies than you, but understanding their viewpoints will help contribute to healthy relationships.

Know when to end the conversation. If the conversation has not come to a resolution, you may want to find an appropriate time to end the discussion peacefully. It may be that you change the topic of conversation or suggest another activity, but reinforce maintaining the relationship you have with the other person. Even though there wasn’t an agreement, continue to participate in activities you enjoy together.

Be proactive. If you are concerned about potentially difficult conversations at family gatherings, such as during the holidays, remember these events are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what you and your family have in common. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.

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How to avoid politics with stubborn relatives

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My pal Rachel Lucas got a question from one of her readers that read,

I’m a former liberal who’s made a difficult transformation to a conservative…I’m hopeful that you’ll consider a post on how a conservative can deal with liberals, in the situation that the liberals are loving and caring family members. Any advice? On how to make a point while remaining civil, and un-excommunicated?

Here’s how you deal with friends, family members, and random people you’re meeting on the street who are liberal.

#1) Avoid talking about politics in the first place. I mean, if you think George Bush is the Truman of his time, a man who will be vindicated by history for bringing freedom to the Middle East and your friend thinks he’s Hitler, it’s going to be hard to bridge the gap — especially since there are probably 50 issues where you have that big of a disagreement. So, try to stay away from politics in general.

#2) Be big enough to handle disagreements. If you can’t handle the fact that your friend thinks Michael Moore is a cinematic genius and that Barack Obama is a “lightbringer,” then how are you going to be able to hold up your end of the friendship? You have to just realize that you’re not going to agree on some very important issues and deal with it.

#3) Correct them gently. I hate to be this blunt, but in my experience, the average person thinks it’s very important to know about politics, but simultaneously, is horribly uninformed about the subject compared to the typical person who reads blogs, listens to talk radio, etc. So as a general rule, most people believe all sorts of things that are ridiculous, completely incorrect, that some “friend of a friend” told them, etc.

With that in mind, if you are well informed, it’s generally very easy to make them look like an idiot. Don’t do this. Feel free to politely disagree with them if they are wrong and then move on. If THEY ask for a follow-up, explain your opinion, in neutral language — and then try to move on from politics.

#4) Do you want to be friends or do you want to prove you’re right? I’m not saying you should go along to get along, because I don’t believe in doing that, but people get very sensitive about how little they know about politics. If you rub it in their faces or make them look like idiots, which incidentally, is what generally makes for a good blog post =D, it’s going to upset them. It’s one thing to do that to liberal bloggers or liberals in a comment section, whom you probably don’t care about one way or the other, but it’s another thing to do that to your friends and family. So, let them know you disagree, but don’t make a huge issue out of it or humiliate them.

#5) Remember that people are not groups. As a group, liberals suck. They’re dishonest, selfish, hedonistic, and slowly eating away at everything that’s good, decent, and worthwhile about American society. However, your friend or a family member is not “liberals;” he’s just a person. Treat him like an individual and don’t try to make him bear the sins of liberals everywhere. That’s too heavy of a burden for anyone to bear.

#6) Just realize it may not work. I find that there are liberals and then there are fanatical liberals. Liberals who aren’t all that into politics, you can have fairly normal discussions with. On the other hand, the fanatical liberals tend to infuse politics into every part of their life and if you are conservative, they genuinely see you as a bad person just because you don’t agree with them. Realistically, you’re probably not going to be able to be friends with someone like that, no matter how great you are as a friend, unless you want to be a doormat who spends all your time getting browbeaten and pretending you agree with him.