Most of us go home for the holidays; many of us aren't looking forward to it. The number one reason: awkward and messy family conversations about politics. We all know the usual advice - don't talk about politics with family, don't poke the bear, just avoid it - but what if you can't? What if you'll be seeing estranged family over the holidays? What if you have to go to the company Christmas party? What should you do then?
Here are some advanced strategies for dealing with super hot, ultra messy holiday situations...
Scenario: You're headed to your aunt's house for Thanksgiving and you know she's a racist.
If you can steer the conversation to avoid upsetting topics, do. If your aunt brings up something that is really objectionable, speak up in a polite and respectful way. You can say, "Aunt Amy, I am not sure that everyone feels that way and maybe we should change the subject." If she pushes, you can always point out that the conversation is hurting you by saying, "I am really hurt by this discussion and I'd like to enjoy dinner with you, can we please stop now?" If the conversation doesn't stop, you can always leave the room or the table. You don't need to make a scene, just get up, and go wash dishes in the kitchen. Just remove yourself and try not to escalate the matter further.
Scenario: Your uncle unfriended you on Facebook because he hates your politics and you'll be seeing him on Christmas day.
Try acting like nothing happened. Say hello, be friendly, engage in casual chit chat. This will likely surprise your uncle and perhaps he will start to feel badly about the unfriending. He might start to apologize; if not, you can say something like, "You know, it's sad that politics have come between us because we clearly care about each other so much." Let the moment linger. Then ask for what you'd like; do you want to reconnect online? Ask for that. Then do all of your political commenting on Twitter and teach your uncle about unfollowing if needed!
Scenario: Your cousin loves to pick fights and relishes cornering you in the kitchen to tell you how backwards your thinking is.
Ask for help a few days in advance. Reach out to a family member who is close to your cousin and explain the situation to them. Tell them how excited you are to see everybody and how much fun you're planning to have during the day. Ask them to chat with your cousin beforehand about avoiding political conversation, especially with you. And if your cousin ignores the request and does corner you anyways - put up a boundary by saying, "Hey Mike, I am not going to talk to you about this. It's not going to go anywhere good and I don't want to ruin the day." If he doesn't stop, walk away... or start banging some pot lids together loudly!
Scenario: You're gay and you haven't come out yet and you worry that the conversation with your family might provoke you.
If no one knows your secret, they might not realize that they're hurting you. You can always speak up, but you might not want that moment to be how you come out. If you're getting upset, change the topic or start a new activity. A deck of cards and a quick poker game goes a long way in these moments! If the situation isn't improving, you should feel free to get up and excuse yourself or leave. You always want to be acting in ways that make you feel good and proud; so do what you need to do.
Scenario: You're at the company holiday party and your co-worker brings up a position that is really objectionable.
This is a situation where you need to focus on your job more than your personal feelings. You absolutely have the right to say whatever you want, but I'd encourage you to stay calm and redirect the conversation. You can even infuse a little humor and say, "Whoa Christine, that could turn into an HR report... we better not go there!" Sometimes the best response is no response: you can look a little stunned by the comment and just excuse yourself to go talk to someone else. If you really feel the comment needs discussion, do it later. Ask Christine to coffee sometime next week and share a personal story that connects to the comment, explain how it made you feel. Feelings move people more than facts.
Scenario: Your best friend invites you to a Christmas party at her home. Her husband and his friends are conservative, you're liberal.
If you're heading into the lion's den, think about why you're going. Are you going to try to convert everyone to your way of thinking? (Please don't try this; disaster!) Or are you going to celebrate the holidays with your friend? Focus on your purpose: go and be with your friend, help her, enjoy her other guests, and stay away from political conversations with others. If you get stuck and someone asks you what you think, say, "I have a rule of not talking politics at parties. It just gets too messy and I would rather relax. Anybody up for another cocktail?" Then make a quick getaway.