Do you dread the thought of navigating difficult conversations at your holiday gatherings? When those topics of conversation come up that make you want to run, hide or break into nervous laughter? Politics, diets, rival sports teams, career choices, parenting styles… You know, those topics.
During the holiday season, we often have the chance to attend family gatherings and spend time with folks we don’t see much throughout the year. That can be a blessing, leading to better relationships. It can also lead us to navigate difficult conversations that trigger or hurt us, cause us to doubt our decisions, or just make us feel uncomfortable.
For example, one of the reasons I’m vegan is because I care deeply about animal rights. That can be a really sensitive subject for some folks, so while it’s not a conversation I back down from, I do my best to tread carefully. And healthy debate can be fun and educational if we lead with sensitivity and empathy!
To keep the peace while also making space for discussion sometimes requires setting boundaries. However, setting boundaries isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to the people that you’re closest to. So, if your current coping mechanisms aren’t serving your mental health and you’d like some new strategies for navigating difficult conversations during the holidays, here are a few tips that I use.
How to Create Dialogue to Successfully Navigate Difficult Conversations
Keep in mind that it’s not your responsibility to change anyone’s mind. If you just want to end the conversation, that’s perfectly OK, and we’ll talk about how to do that below. But, if you want to take this as an opportunity to open up a dialogue, try these tips navigate difficult conversations:
Assess the situation.
Are the people you’re talking with open to having a conversation or do they just want to argue their point of view? If they don’t want to hear your point of view, it may be time to end the conversation.
The most productive conversations with friends and family members are those that allow everyone to get airtime. That means engaging in active listening and offering the other person your full attention. Try not to interrupt, roll your eyes, or spend time planning your next rebuttal. Really take in what the other person is saying, and they’ll be more likely to do the same when it’s your time to talk.
Choose your words carefully.
Use language that’s positive, encouraging, and displays humility, rather than combative and judgmental. Try using phrases like, “You bring up an interesting point. Here’s something else you might consider…” and “It sounds like you’ve thought a lot about this! I’m grateful that we can share our unique perspectives with each other.”
Empower yourself with knowledge.
If the subject is a passion of yours and something you do want to talk about, be prepared! Root yourself in your why. For example, “I’m eating plant-based because it makes me feel better and helps reduce my carbon footprint.” Also, be sure of your facts.
Know when to stop.
If the discussion starts going around in circles or gets heated, call a timeout! It’s important not to let things spiral out of control because that’s when boundaries get blurry, and people can feel hurt.
Agree to disagree and move on if the conversation becomes unproductive. Sometimes the best you can do is to plant a seed. You can always come back to the topic later!