Hard Holiday Conversations: 5 Tips for Navigating Friends, Family & Politics

The holiday season has officially begun, which means a flurry of activity and celebrations with loved ones. These events can be full of joy and warmth! They can also be full of anxiety and avoidance for fear of what we say (and don’t say) around tables and during gatherings of family and friends.

Our individual tribes, the collective tribe of women, and tribe of human all benefit when we have open and honest conversations about what is going on both personally and politically because the personal is the political. We want to think that avoiding the conversation will keep the peace, but not speaking our own truths and openly exploring the truths of others creates a build-up of tension that goes unresolved and comes out in other ways. You know, like eating all of the gooseberry pie to keep from engaging in Aunt Mable’s news commentary. And you don’t even like gooseberry pie!

“Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.” As discussed during our TribeTalk podcast episode 9 with author Susan Scott, and in her book Fierce Conversations, these conversations with coworkers, friends, and family are important to maintaining (and growing) our relationships.

With these conversations, you will likely face one of three outcomes…

  1. Everyone agrees!  There is joy throughout the tribe. Time with your tribe should provide an opportunity to talk through ideas and discover how you all may truly feel about a topic. Sometimes everyone has the same opinion. Having a group of supportive friends who all have different experiences can provide wonderful insights and an excellent dialogue on a topic.
  2.  It is better for you to agree to disagree. This is not a disservice to any of your ideas. It is simply an agreement that your friendship is more important than whatever disagreement you are experiencing. Know your limits in this situation. Do not let your political opinions flood how you feel about a friend.
  3. It is not the time to state your thoughts or opinions. For reasons of decorum, audience, topic, or other reasons, it’s just not the right time to have the conversation. You may want to return to your discussion at a later date. Or, you may discover that you would rather not engage in the discussion at all. It is completely your decision and taking time to think through how best to approach it is crucial.

The key to navigating these conversations is to create a trusting environment with your tribe where your individual opinions and voices can lead to some insightful conversations if you allow them to happen. Now, here are your…

5 tips for navigating political (personal!) conversations

1. Know your opinions & that your voice is important

Know what issues you feel passionate about and where you stand on them. If you don’t know where you stand yet, do not simply play “devil’s advocate” because it may weaken your views and undermine its importance to you.  Know which ideas make you want to speak up, and recognize when it is okay to stay quiet.

It is important to know how you feel about an issue when it comes up in conversation. There may be some topics that you do not have an opinion on (personally, I will never feel very strongly about tax policy). There may be other issues that you want to fight fiercely for (pineapple DOES go on pizza). Most importantly, know that your voice is powerful and meaningful in your community. You bring an opinion that deserves to be heard!

2. Understand there are some situations where saying nothing is NOT an option

No matter the topic, there are some situations when we will need to step up and step into a conversation.

  1. When someone is actively oppressing or harming another
  2. When they are spreading information you know to be untrue  

We all have certain topics that personally affect us, therefore limiting our ability to remain silent. For example, when I find people are disenfranchising individuals or perpetuating harmful ideas (i.e. rape culture), I cannot remain silent. In these situations, I speak up. We have a responsibility to stand up, say something and defend those who are being oppressed. Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” It is important to know that you have the power and freedom to stand up for others and that sometimes it will be necessary for you to do so.

3. Defuse situations that are high-stakes for your tribe

 When fierce conversations turn into high-stakes arguments, it can be important to identify tangible actions that can help resolve the conflict. It is vital that everyone can see both sides of the issue when it is a situation where there are two sides. This will not always be the case, but when possible following through on the idea of “walking in someone else’s shoes” or seeing things from another’s perspective can be helpful. One way to take a conflict and turn it into action is to attend an event or watch a video to gain a better understanding of a different perspective.

An example of this can be seen when two people are arguing the effects of public and private schools. Person 1 thinks public schools are great because their child makes friends of all backgrounds while private schools promote an elitist attitude. Person 2 thinks private schools are wonderful because the teacher focuses on their child while public school teachers cannot expend the energy to focus on just one of their thirty-five students. Person 1 could go with Person 2 to a festival at the private school to see what great things are happening there. Person 2 could attend a band concert at the public school with Person 1. By seeing both sides of the issue, they could diffuse the argument and have steps to move forward.

This may be an unrealistic scenario, as experience sharing is not always something people are open to, but it is important to encourage others to get out of their comfort zone because that is how our perspective grows. Also, remember that a myriad of organizations have resources and training devoted to the promotion of diversity and inclusion. Using these organizations to move past an argument is also be an excellent idea.

4. Call people in instead of calling people out

Establishing a culture among your tribe of calling people in as opposed to calling someone out for contradictory or counterproductive behavior will translate beyond politics for the health of friendships. While the goal of calling people out is to get them to change their behavior, it also often results in hurt feelings. Calling people in has the same goal but is done in a more compassionate way that involves letting a person know that they said something hurtful or misinformed and walking with them through how to correct what happened or improve for the future. It involves one-on-one education and conversation and assumes that the person had the best intention.

5. Make “politics free” time with your tribe

Regardless of how frequently or infrequently your tribe discusses politics, it is important to dedicate time away from such issues to connect beyond them. We are stuck in a 24-hour news cycle and social media stream (or fire hose, as it feels) that we all need time away from. We must take time to care for ourselves and each other, so we can go back to fighting the good fight in our communities every day.

We are better together

Taken together, these tips may help you to navigate the murky waters found when friendship and politics mix. We are stronger together than divided, even when our opinions differ, and together we can bring change for all. We will have moments where we must agree to disagree with members of our tribe. This is not a disservice to ourselves, nor a dismissal of individual ideas. Instead, it is an agreement that the friendship is more important than conflict. Ultimately, having confidence in your voice and opinion, coupled with a willingness to engage in fierce conversations, will help you to say what you need to say when you need to say it.

What have you found to be useful in conversations about politics with your tribe? Was there something you wish you’d done better? Do you have an additional tip? Please leave them in the comments below!