How to Navigate Difficult Conversations During the Holidays

Hiya Gorgeous!

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.

Listen carefully. 

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!

How to Navigate Difficult Conversations When Unwelcome Feedback Makes You Doubt Yourself

It can be really tough to resist the pressure to conform or agree, especially when it’s coming from someone we trust. If you’re second-guessing or doubting yourself, even when you KNOW what’s in your heart, it’s important to learn how to regulate our responses to successfully navigate difficult conversations.

Do your best to stay calm and grounded in the moment.

While it’s normal to disagree sometimes, emotional subjects can cause us to respond by interrupting, becoming irritable, or leaving the conversation altogether. When you start reacting negatively, check in with your body to gauge your stress level and take a deep breath to calm and center yourself.

You are not required to justify your feelings or decisions. 

Your feelings are valid. Remember what I said about it not being your job to change people’s minds? It’s also not your responsibility to get people to understand your choices.

However, you can respect someone else’s point of view without doubting yourself. You are the number one authority on YOU.

Come back to your purpose and values. 

Listening to someone else’s point of view doesn’t mean you abandon your convictions. If a challenging chat shakes you up, reconnect with the values and the purpose behind your choices. Being aligned with your values can lead to better discussions. This is because you are able to clearly articulate your viewpoint.

Give yourself time to reconsider. 

If an opposing viewpoint DOES make you want to reevaluate, that’s OK! That doesn’t make you weak or indecisive. It makes you open-minded and, dare I say, wise? Just don’t feel rushed into changing your tune—take the time you need to think about what you’ve learned and adjust your views as necessary.

When you want to end the conversation

Sometimes, you just don’t want to talk about a difficult subject. There’s nothing wrong with that and it doesn’t make you rude, stubborn or inflexible. But because we’re taught to be polite, it can be a challenge to effectively shut down an unwanted conversation. Here are a few phrases I’ve had success with:

  • “This isn’t something I’m comfortable talking about right now. Let’s move on.”
  • “I’m not looking for advice about this, but I appreciate the offer!”
  • “I can tell you’re passionate about this, but I’d prefer it if we changed the subject.”
  • “I’ll enjoy our time together more if we don’t talk about this—thanks for understanding!”

You have big, bold ideas!

Anything big and bold is bound to attract some attention. Try seeing opposition as scenery on your journey. You can notice it, acknowledge it and even pause to check it out. But it doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks or throw you off course.

Your turn: What do you want to set some boundaries around? Let me know in the comments so we can support each other!

Peace & healthy boundaries,

Kris Carr

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