Regardless of whom we voted for, the recent election cycle has been the most trying one in decades for a majority of the electorate. The results are in. Emotions are still heightened whether we are left pleased and hopeful or angry and fearful. Both before and after the election, differences in opinion have caused strife among friends and family. And yet, for many, these differences are sure to be a topic during the Thanksgiving holiday.
While the election is a difficult topic to discuss, it may be even more challenging for many to ignore. The following strategies may assist you in addressing this challenge:
1. Remind yourself of the bigger picture–that any individual is so much more than his or her choice of party or candidate.
2. Remember, we’re all driven by a need for safety, connection with others, and the means to have a good life. We just have different opinions as to what can help us achieve these goals.
3. Listen, listen, listen–before you feel the urge to share your perspective. By doing so you’ll find out so much more about the other person and how they see the world.
4. Be aware that any expression of anger is a reaction to some feeling of threat. Try not to become hooked to your anger or that of others. Instead, listen to the sense of anxiety and threat that may be behind the anger–yours and theirs.
5. You may decide you don’t want to discuss politics at all. If so, you could assertively state, “It’s me. I’m not comfortable discussing politics right now.” This is far more effective than telling others what they should or shouldn’t discuss. Once stated, try not to get hooked by questions or comments made to get you engaged in a discussion.
6. Be alert to that voice in your head that says, “People should see things as I do.” And then remember that people have many different views and they may not be yours.
7. If you do engage in a discussion, voice the feelings behind your decision–your fears, anxieties or hopes.
8. Similarly, identify and share specific personal concerns that inform your political choice: how they impact you financially, your individual freedom, your aspirations and your sense of safety.
9. You may have feelings regarding a policy or a particular candidate. Rather than just denigrating a candidate, share how you are impacted. For example, you might say “I like some of his policies, but I was too scared of Trump’s impulsive behavior” or “Besides not agreeing with her policies, I didn’t feel I could trust Hillary.”
10. Focus comments on the policies and not on the person with whom you’re having the discussion.
11. Be aware of your need to be right or to “win”. This will certainly create tension for both of you.
12. Be assertive if you believe things are getting too heated. You may say, for example, “I thought I would be OK about discussing this, but I’m not feeling very comfortable right now. So, I’d rather talk about…” or “I feel anything I say at this point isn’t going to be constructive, so I need to talk about something else.”
13. Alcohol doesn’t always mix well with politics. So, be especially mindful of trying to have political discussions if you or your guest have had too many.
14. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful. Focus on what you have in common and what you are grateful for–even if it’s just enjoying the holiday meal. This might even entail agreeing to have a discussion at a future time.
Regardless of the strategies you practice, I encourage you to be compassionate–with others and yourself. Have a great Thanksgiving!