Considering the current political climate, there is a good chance you may have to deal with a bumpy road or two during holiday gatherings. The dynamics of high stakes, emotionally driven conversations can be intricate and challenging for most people to handle. When family members are involved in a heated discussion the intensity level can race from zero to 10 in a heartbeat. Families can be complicated -- we all come with baggage. There are countless triggers such as sibling rivalries, emotional attachments, different personality types, or generational beliefs that can cause even the most calm, introverted family member to jump into the fray.
The best way to avoid major meltdowns around the holiday table this year is to devise a "peace plan." Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate tough conversations and stay cool when opinions clash:
1. Clearly state the "rules" upfront.
The proactive approach is to avert the issue ahead of time. Request that a strict "no talking politics" rule be enforced. Of course, this can be easier said than done. Some people may choose to stir the pot anyway. In this case, do your best to quell the conflict by changing the subject.
2. Listen actively and mindfully.
If things get heated, stop, take a breath, and ask more questions to clarify their position before answering. Ensure your body language reflects a collaborative tone as well. Uncross your arms, maintain eye contact and remain calm.
You don't have to agree with a person to empathize with them -- but you do need to listen, come to understand and respect their viewpoint, even if it is vastly different from your own. Say things like, "I can understand why you feel that way..." or "I'm so sorry this has affected you this way..."
The goal is to come together and say what needs to be said so that the other person feels valued and respected and, therefore, can actually hear your message.
4. Defer the Conversation
Remind your guests, calmly and respectfully, that the holidays are not the time and place for this type of conversation. It is meant to be a time of reconnecting and renewal. If it's getting heated and emotionally charged, try saying something like, "I'm going to ask that we defer this conversation, we're here to spend time together and enjoy each other's company..."
5. Take the Higher Ground
A conflict cannot survive without your participation. No one ever changes their minds, or comes to understand another by being interrupted, insulted or belittled. The secret is to keep your composure and say things like "I respectfully disagree" -- and continue to divert the conversation to another 'safe' topic.