How to talk politics with your family this thanksgiving

This feast is all about gathering with friends and family for festivities and delicious food. But it can also be a time for awkward dinner conversations, especially when you disagree with your relatives on human rights, politics or other issues.

Regardless of your political leanings or interests, it’s possible to make it through your second helping of turkey without telling your dinner guests to, well, stuff it. Here’s how to handle that angry aunt or opinionated uncle – and maybe even sway their opinion.

  1. Listen: People can get defensive or shut down if they feel like they are being misunderstood or attacked. Listening intently, with empathy, and holding back on the eyerolls will help your relative feel valued and more open to positive engagement.
  2. Ask: Encourage someone to explain their reasoning with open-ended questions like “why do you feel that way?” or simply, “tell me more.” Inviting them to open up will allow you to better see their point of view.
  3. Find common ground: Try finding an area in your family member’s argument that you both agree on. Maybe you disagree on which party should be in power, but you both fear an economic recession. If you agree first, then it will soften the blow when you follow-up with a gently worded disagreement.
  4. Don’t just rely on facts: If you come to the dinner table armed with statistics on refugee rights, that won’t be enough to sway someone who believes we should shut our borders. Instead of negating your family member, try saying that, as a common humanity, we should care about helping distressed people and their children find safety. For example, Amnesty International has seen success through storytelling, showing human faces and highlighting common values.
  5. Set boundaries: If the conversation becomes too hot for comfort, then feel free to excuse yourself for a bathroom break. You can also state that you don’t think the conversation is heading anywhere productive, so why not pause and dish out dessert?

Following these tips might not come easily, especially if a relative expresses bigoted views, but the key is to have patience and be kind in your approach. If you don’t initially succeed in changing any opinions, don’t get distressed. It is important to simply ease difficult conversations so you can at least enjoy your pumpkin pie in peace.

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