How to Hold a Civil Conversation with Your Family This Holiday Season
ci·vil·i·ty : formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech
A family gathering can be a stressful time, especially during a political year. If you’re feeling apprehensive about that inevitable-dinner discussion, here are some tips for maintaining a civil conversation.
While this may be difficult, the Humanities Council believes we risk misunderstanding and miscommunication by refusing to listen to those whose opinion differs from ours.
Ultimately, remember that the holidays are meant to contemplate the things we are thankful for, and to encourage peace between all people.
Let’s begin with those sitting across the table from us.
1) Prep Time Before your guests arrive, ask yourself some questions.
You know your stance, and you have an idea of where they’re going to be coming from—but do you have any common ground? What issues might concern all of you, even if you approach them from opposite points of view?
Are you prepared to hear things you may disagree with and accept that this conversation may make you feel uncomfortable?
Have you acknowledged that you may not change anyone’s opinions and do you understand that your goal should be to expand another person’s worldview rather than simply criticizing their choice of candidate or political stance?
Consider that your own perceptions may influence your receptiveness to other viewpoints. Each of us has a personal history that often leads to emotional responses to certain issues. With families and friends, our shared personal history can make this conversation even more complicated. Understand where your boundaries are and respect your conversational partner’s boundaries as well.
2) Sit Down and Eat Perhaps your guests will elect to avoid conversation about political or social issues. You should respect this choice, but if others are open, ease into heavier discussion at a later time. These conversations are important!
Ask questions. Don’t take anything that’s said personally, and let the speaker fully finish their thought without any interruption.
Acknowledge the speaker’s viewpoint by repeating what they’ve said and interpreting why their beliefs are important to them. This doesn’t mean you agree with them, but it will show that you’ve listened and have made an attempt at understanding
It’s your turn. Give your side of things, being careful to avoid name-calling or accusations (even if your conversation partners have done so). Fill in the gaps of knowledge others may have about your specific concerns. While smartphones make it easy to bring up statistics and facts, be aware of any bias certain websites and journalistic sources may have. Remind any interrupters that you’d like to have your turn to speak and will answer questions when you’ve finished.
3) Dessert You may never convince your guests to “join your side”. But you can gain one another’s understanding. Make a clear distinction at the end of the conversation and move on to a new topic. Watch a film together or play a board game to build a positive emotional memory between everyone.
This year’s election in particular has shown that there is a great divide between opposing “sides”. While having these conversations with family members may be uncomfortable, they are necessary in creating effective collaboration for the future of our country. Developing a deeper understanding for all viewpoints will help us become better people and a stronger society.
The holidays are about bringing forth empathy and compassion for our families and our communities. The Humanities embody these values. We wish you the best of luck and holiday cheer.
Happy Holidays from the North Dakota Humanities Council!