The holidays are just around the corner, and I’m stressed about the political conversations that will certainly come up. My family has very strong political opinions, and they’re very different from my own. I hate engaging in these conversations and would rather avoid them altogether. How can I politely tune my family out when politics come up? – Andi in Avon, CT
There is a time and place for everything. For many of us, discussing politics has no seat at the family table. A festive holiday gathering should be about reconnecting and catching up. Convivial and pleasant is the tone you are craving, along with a joyful atmosphere. Trying to tune out during the party completely defeats the purpose of getting together. Instead, you can lay the groundwork ahead of the crush of activities, and during the events, to steer clear of discordant subjects.
Reach out to your family members to let them know you how excited you are for the upcoming celebrations. You want to learn what is new in their lives and plans for the new year, and you’ll be giving them the gift of abstaining from any disruptive topics such as politics. Your wish is that they will all lean in and join your enthusiasm to share the things that really matter during this glorious season.
There are many avenues to communicate your desire to focus on this this special time together. My advice is one-on-one. Pick up your phone and call or video chat. This will enable you to listen to their response and ask questions if they express a concern or frustration. Follow the outline of a crucial conversation. Ask questions and reach an accord.
If you are the host of the gathering, plan to send an email or group message with event details and include your sentiments on the desire for a jovial time together. I would still make the one-on-one connections to each family member ensuring you are in sync and free from political conundrums.
In addition, you can use a gambit from one of my friends. In her family, they have what they call a “red flag word” such as “squirrel” – a word that any of them can say aloud and stop the conversation from getting too heated. While I’ve never used this, it adds a measure of self-control in which everyone can partake to maintain a merry festivity.
During the Celebration
You have multiple options to use during your family gathering. If you try the red flag word above, have some fun and make a toast to the word at the beginning to set the tone. Another choice is to re-direct the conversation if it takes an unfortunate turn to politics. Kindly remind everyone that you want to learn about what is going on in their lives and their places for 2020. Re-center the discussion by sharing a piece of news that leads everyone back to higher ground.
If a few of the family members are incorrigible, request them to take their discussion to another part of the house or go for a walk. It’s a win-win since the rest of the family can enjoy being together, while they can continue their conversation. When you are the host, you are in a better position to recall your appeal to enjoy and celebrate as a family. You laid the ground rules before the gathering, and they committed to cheerful family time.
When you are the guest, you can only go so far to get family members back on track. It’s especially tricky if it is your host who can’t leave well enough alone. Use a toast to smoothly remember why you have all come together. Appeal to their desire to share what really matters. If you are unable to re-center the discussion when it becomes heated, leave the room. Go check on the kids, help in the kitchen, or even take out the trash. Whatever makes sense without being abrupt or rude.
Be prepared to leave if family members are incurable and refuse to move the conversation away from divisive areas. You laid the groundwork, tried your best to re-center the dialogue, and took your own time-out to give them space. Now it’s time to gracefully exit. Let them do their thing, and you do yours.
Reconnecting with your family should be a special occasion, an opportunity to learn what’s new, share sentiments, and make new memories. With a little preparation and resolve, you can have a wonderful celebration. It’s your prerogative to have fun and create the ambience you need.
Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.