Talking with angry relatives and friends over the holidays

The NY Times has an interactive piece to help us all have difficult conversations about politics over our  holiday tables.  Read Here

The piece gives you multiple choice options of how to respond to your angry Uncle Bot in a political conversation. The first choice is choosing whether Uncle Bot is an angry liberal or an angry conservative.  The article then walks you through  various conversation options telling you when you have made a “Good Choice.”

Spoiler alert:  the recommended conversation method, which is revealed after you play through the interactive bit, won’t be a surprise to Indisputably readers:

1.  Ask open ended …questions

2.  Listen

3.  Reflect back

4.  Agree before disagreeing

5.  Share you perspective

The goal is to not avoid political discussion but to engage because, as the author says,

Throughout American history, important strides were made because people dared to share their political views with relatives. The civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the antiwar movement, the gay rights movement, the struggle for marriage equality–all gained acceptance through difficult conversations among family members who initially disagreed vehemently with one another.

The interactive piece of this article is great–and makes me wonder where else we could use this technique to help each other learn to talk to each other about difficult issues with family, friends, colleagues, and in the classroom.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 thoughts on “Talking with angry relatives and friends over the holidays”

  1. In our Alternative Dispute Resolution class at Marquette, Professor Schneider had us look at this NY Times interactive piece. To me, the exercise itself seemed rather self-explanatory but I thought it spoke to the larger issues with all discourse we’re currently having in our country.

    After playing with the interactive piece a little more, I thought that the idea of asking follow-up questions to understand someone’s perspective is a missing piece in dialogue nowadays. No matter the issue, understanding and reflecting someone’s viewpoint can help promote healthier dialogue. While this may not always lead to a desired result in a conversation, I think utilizing this technique promotes empathy. Especially with politics or other highly contested areas of dispute, empathy can be a driving force in promoting understanding on issues. While you may disagree with someone’s ultimate opinion, the follow-up questions serve to foster at least some type of a connection with the person you’re speaking with.

  2. The interactive piece put out by the New York Times is a fun, amusing, and ever-relevant game especially in the midst of the holiday season. Whether it be an uncle, aunt, grandfather, parent, or cousin, we all seem to have that one (or more) relative that champions some political or societal opinion over dinner. Often times, it is awkward and uncomfortable and we cannot wait until they have finished their rant and move on to other, more peaceful topics. However, the family forum can be particularly insightful – if handled properly. This is what is believe the true purpose of the NYT piece strives to get at.

    It can be argued the Country is more divisive than ever; so too is the family. Whether this is perpetuated by Facebook or the sensationalism of the media on issues, the family forum seems to be a hotbed for discussion that often turns heated. The NYT piece advocates for follow-up questions, active listening, and a level of understanding. This can be difficult when the “uncle” attempts to undermine your perspective or in the case of a generational divide between uncle and niece or nephew, the notorious word “millennial” inevitably is used. When this happens, it seems that they will never understand where you are coming from. However, not all has to be lost. By using the general notions put forth by the NYT piece, asking those follow-up questions, it can challenge the “uncles” position without the battle of whose position is “better”. Whether we like it or not, if we truly stick to the purpose of the NYT, the discussion can also help us understand and challenge our own position better if the “uncle” puts forth salient points on his position. Ultimately, listening and understanding should be the goal in these forums because you’re never going to get that 50+-year-old uncle to completely change his perspective of the world. The end result can actually foster a mutual respect for each other instead of an uncomfortable divide.

  3. In these volatile political times it seems like speaking about contentious issues is the last thing that most of us want to do, especially during the holidays when the general idea is to enjoy yourself and relax. It might seem easier to avoid these conversations entirely and just hope they end soon. This piece from the NY Times introduces something that certainly seems to be lacking today, the ability to open a healthy dialog with someone that you disagree with. I like how the piece discourages jumping to conclusions and immediately trying to start an argument over what you assume to be true about the other’s position.

    Asking probing questions about the other’s opinion to try and understand and maybe connect with their idea is something you don’t seem much in conversations like this. People are often focused on “winning” a conversation about a topic they feel a certain way about instead of learning something new or getting a fresh perspective. The current political climate certainly does nothing to help this mindset. After running through both models of the conversation I wondered how the formula would change if there really wasn’t anything you could agree with the “uncle” about if the topic was just something you fundamentally disagree with. I think the way you phrased it as “agree before disagreeing” instead of just agreeing made more sense. Overall I think that the most important idea to take from the article is that when faced with one of these situations you should at least try to get the other’s perspective and see if that allows the two sides to engage in a more civilized discussion where maybe both can reach some common ground.

  4. A helpful tool in an ever-divisive political season. However, from reading some of the comments on the NYTimes site, it appears many readers are unwilling to adopt or have given up on these strategies. From one commenter, “Dr. Tamerius assumes that the person you’re attempting to converse with, using the above skills, will respond in a sane and rational matter.” From another, “[These strategies] have been my approach for over 30 years in dealing with my irrational, illogical and ultra religious and conservative sister… As the years piled up… I realized that I don’t respect her and I don’t like her and would never have talked to her if she weren’t my sister.”

    These comments show now more than ever the importance of productive dialogue with those holding differing viewpoints. In our ADR class, we discussed the strategy of understanding someone’s true underlying interest in a given situation. I believe this strategy is applicable here. It is essential to get to the bottom of a contrasting opinion. Ask questions that require an articulation of a viewpoint rather than reverting to name calling or a complete shut out. Practically, this can be very difficult. It is easy to get sucked into the deteriorating political argument that leads nowhere. One will hopefully find an agreeable middle ground (albeit small) by taking a step back and delineating why and how someone holds a particular viewpoint on life.

    It is unfortunate that some commenters have come to the conclusion that they cannot have cordial interaction with certain relatives. However, that does not mean one should abandon the opportunity to have political discourse with differing opinions all together. As suggested above, some of the most important movements in American history began with starkly contrasting opinions–giving up on these conversations will certainly result in grave consequences.

  5. Talking about ones political views has always been a hot button topic. Today, it seems that even more and more people are reluctant to bring up politics in most social settings, especially around the dinner table at holidays. However, I agree with Cynthia to the extent that, politics should not be a topic of taboo, but rather if changes are to be made, politics should be a topic that is brought up more and more in day to day conversation.

    The interactive piece in the New York Times is a fun game to understand the best ways of having a political conversation with family and friends without it getting to the point that the holiday is ruined. The piece shows that it is essential to listen to the other person’s view points and reflect back, which seems to be a part of communication that most people have a hard time doing. I feel that people can relate on at least some aspect of a political issue, and if people are willing to at least hear the other person out, instead of just waiting to say “you’re wrong” they can see it from both sides and may realize that both sides do have a valid point.

    Not only is the interactive piece useful in political conversations with family members, but it is also a tool that many professionals can use when negotiating with someone else. I feel that it is important for people to bring up their opinions and views about not only politics, but other hot button issues. However, people should do it in a manner in which it is not to prove another person wrong, but in a way to get someone to see an issue from a prospective that maybe that person has never looked at it from.

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