I have a divided family. Politically divided, that is. And with the holidays coming up, I’m feeling no small measure of anxiety. For some members of my family, this year’s election was intensely personal. For others, it was politics as usual. And while I am consciously not on Facebook, I hear about the battles that have been waging and the exchanges that are not always cordial.
I’m envious of people who come from united clans in which everyone sits comfortably on one side of the political aisle. As for me, I find myself in the unenviable position of dreading this year’s holiday gatherings.
I’m certainly not alone. I’m hearing the same message of holiday apprehension from team members and clients. How do I deal with political conflict when surrounded by people I love? I called one of our Life Meets Work coaches, Paul Gilbride, to ask for advice. Here’s what he had to say:
Set Boundaries. The decision that lies ahead for many people is: Do we talk about it or not? That’s an intensely personal choice. Either way, decide what you’re willing to accept and what you’re not. Maybe for some families, that means having a discussion ahead of time, and agreeing that you’ll put politics aside to focus on what brings you together.
Maybe you’re willing to engage in political discourse as long as it doesn’t devolve into name calling or derogatory comments on someone’s intelligence. “I love you, but if you want me to engage it’s only going to be under the following conditions…”
Or maybe you’re still feeling too emotionally charged and you need politics off the table altogether. “I’m happy to be there, but I refuse to argue about politics so let’s agree to disagree and leave it at that.”
Plan Your Strategy. Your best form of protection is to have a strategy ahead of time, Gilbride advises. You might decide that you’ll leave the room when certain topics arise. Or, you might decide to use it as a learning experience to really try to understand what it’s like to walk in that person’s shoes and find out why their opinions are so different than your own.
You want to be in a situation where you’re responding intentionally, instead of reacting. Plan how you’ll respond so you can make a conscious decision in the moment. If you have a strategy ahead of time, you’re more likely to act in a manner you’ll be proud of later.
Set an Intention. Hoping the topic just won’t come up is probably not realistic. If you go in with negative expectations (“Someone better not start or I’m going to go off!”) you’re likely to find yourself in that exact scenario. Instead, reflect on how you want to show up at the gathering. Ask yourself, “What’s important to me? How do I want to demonstrate what I’m all about?” Set an intention to reflect that. (“I’m going to show up curious and accepting today.”)
Control Your Own Actions. Even if you stay out of the political fray, you may have to watch conflict playing out in front of you. Again, Gilbride advises, establish your boundaries and plan how you’ll respond if those boundaries are crossed.
Have a true sense of what’s important to you. There’s nothing wrong in saying, “This is what [insert holiday] means to me. It represents family togetherness, and if this kind of discussion continues, my family and I will leave and observe the holiday in a way that is important to us.’”
People see things the way they want to see them. And the only thing you can control in any situation is yourself. At the end of the day, at the end of the holiday season, you want to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I was true to who I want to be in the world.”
Own Your Judgement. It seems to me that both sides are judging each other right now. People are either judging the choice or judging the response. As Paul explains, judging is only bad if it’s not serving you well. So consider whether your judgements are hurting relationships you want to maintain. Acknowledge your judgements but be intentional in how they affect your words and actions.
“Of course,” Gilbride quipped, “you could always drink heavily. Then again, that might be counterproductive to your goals.”