How to manage difficult political conversations with family, friends

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — From shouting and pouting to name-calling, sometimes discussions over the dinner table with family and friends can turn heated especially leading up to a contentious election like last November or the approaching inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Dr. Erika Geisler specializes in marital and premarital counseling, relationship issues, and life coaching.

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If you find yourself in a situation where a controversial political topic comes up, Geisler offers a few tips for navigating stress-free conversations.

“Don’t engage in debates or discussions that are going to get heated,” she said. “Work to get curious about where the other person you’re talking to is coming from, try to understand more about their opinions and their beliefs, and why they feel that way.”

When you’re asking clarifying questions, its important to do so in a way that doesn’t make the other person feel as though you are ‘instructing’ or ‘shaming’ them.

“Just say ‘tell me more about why you feel about that political person’ or ‘tell me more about your thoughts about COVID and how this has been for you,'” Geisler said. “Try to get into people’s experiences.”

If you are hosting a dinner party where you know the conversation could get intense, establish ‘ground rules’ and plan how you can avoid controversy if someone at the table doesn’t follow those rules.

“Recognize how to get yourself out of those situations by being curious about somebody else, not debating, being able to change the subject if things do get heated or politely excuse yourself,” Geisler said.

It’s also important to monitor how much alcohol you’re consuming.

“If you have more than one drink, you’re going to be off your game a little bit and you might not be able to field these things away,” she said.

Listening is also a critical skill many should focus on to improve our interpersonal skills with others with opposing ideas.

“Its really important to listen to where others are coming from and getting curious about that,” Geisler said. “We don’t really change other people’s minds politically or about the Coronavirus or any opinions people have, so getting curious about people is more important than trying to get your point across.”

If there are guests who tend to dominate the table conversation, Geisler says its important to allow everyone an opportunity to be heard.

“There’s no one truth, there’s no one right answer, we all have our own opinions and they’re all valid, so I think its really lovely to give everybody a time to share their opinions,” she said.

Ultimately, its important to recognize that not everyone’s opinion lines up with yours.

“Give them the space to share about their opinions and validate that for them even if you don’t agree,” Geisler said.