You’re looking forward to your family get-together, but you could do without the drama. How do you keep harmony in the house, including talking to loved ones who have drastically different viewpoints than yours?

Follow these tips to create a more harmonious and enjoyable gathering for all.

The bigger the gathering, the greater potential for friction.

Chances are your family or friends will venture into discussions about politics, religion, marriage, dating, and other potentially controversial topics. This can be stressful. Remember that you are not obligated to talk about them. Follow these strategies to stay away from conversational landmines. (If you do want to engage, there’s advice later in this blog.)

  • If someone brings up the topic, gently remind them that there are 11 other months in the year to have the conversation. Today is for celebrating family and the holidays.
  • Change the subject. Brief a few family members beforehand so that they can do that as well.
  • Set up a quiet corner or room for those who need to withdraw from the larger gatherings. Use it to relax and recharge.
  • Children’s quarrels can sometimes set off adults. Make sure there is a teenage cousin to help keep kids safe and entertained or hire a babysitter.

Fun is a great buffer.

It’s hard to get into controversial topics when you’re singing, playing games, or exchanging gifts. Put fun on the agenda and everyone is sure to have a great time.

  • Sing carols. Put on a talent show. Watch a movie. Enjoy family holiday traditions.
  • Play games but keep them noncompetitive so everyone can enjoy them.
  • Host a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange for fun and funny moments.
  • Supply everyone with funny hats or themed props. Take plenty of photos.
  • Put on some music and dance.

Set the stage for thoughtful conversation.

Interactions with family and friends are opportunities to stretch your perspective. When you’re ready to discuss one of those controversial topics, do it out of the way of the main gathering. Importantly, you don’t want to create tension or start an argument. Before you discuss something controversial, set up a friendly environment.

  • Start with topics that reinforce your relationship. Talk about how good it is to see each other. Compliment the food.
  • Remember that most people’s opinions are shaped by their past experiences, their culture, and their religious beliefs. These shape a person’s opinion more than actual knowledge of the topic.
  • Before you engage in controversial conversation, tell the person that you care about them. Tell them you appreciate their perspective.

Engage in next-level listening.

If you’ve ever felt misunderstood, you know the importance of really listening to someone. Active listening is an art. So, when you’re ready to engage in a potentially controversial topic, ask, “What do you think of…x, y, z?” Then, don’t say a thing. Simply listen.

  • Be conscious of your body language. Don’t cross your arms, which can convey a sense of disagreement. Keep your body open, relaxed, and attentive. If sitting, lean forward.
  • Keep regular eye contact. Do not stare, however; keep it natural.
  • Use simple gestures to encourage the other person to talk. Use an occasional head nod or “mm-hmm.”
  • Offer the other person uninterrupted time to talk for a few minutes.
  • Then, reflect. Summarize what you heard. If you’re off target, it gives the other person a chance to correct you.

 Be curious. Ask questions.

You just listened to the other person’s point of view. After you summarize what you’ve heard, ask the questions that popped up in your mind.

  • Ask open-ended questions rather than ones that require a yes or no.
  • Stay neutral in your tone and content.
  • Avoid judgment, opinion, and sarcasm.
  • Don’t call them names or curse at them.
  • Don’t be condescending.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Try to understand why they see the world that way.
  • Assume the other person has good intentions. Make a point of saying that their intentions come from a good place.

Share thoughts with compassion and kindness.

Don’t think of the conversation as a win or lose. Leave your ego at the door and avoid putting down the other person’s beliefs as you discuss yours.

  • Use “I” statements to share your beliefs.
  • Avoid citing facts and trying to change the other person’s mind.
  • Personal stories are often more powerful than facts.
  • Find the places where you agree. For example, “I really think my friend should be able to have healthcare.” You don’t have to get into how that could happen.
  • Know when it’s time to call it quits. If the conversation can’t get beyond a certain point, that’s a good time to agree to disagree.
  • Thank them for their time and attention. Offer to revisit the topic in the future.

Make sure the conversation doesn’t take up the bulk of the party. Get back to the fun and make some memories.

Happy holidays from our family to yours.


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