Family and Politics: 4 Tips to Avoid a Family Disaster

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By Dr. Deanna Brann, Clinical Psychotherapist, author of “Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict”

Holidays with family are a stressful time under normal circumstances, but add this year’s political race, and you have the potential for WWIII! Politics is a subject to avoid with people in general, but when it comes to family, this is even more relevant. Someone in the family often starts off the conversation innocently enough, however, as tempers rise and people dig in, the noise level gets louder and louder. And for some reason we believe if we just talk louder or talk over the other person, he or she will eventually see things our way. Believe me, nothing is further from the truth. And with family, the negative feelings one starts to have toward another family member can, and often do, linger long after everyone goes home.

Although I highly recommend avoiding the subject of politics if at possible, I realize that some people cannot help themselves. Here are some tips to help you successfully maneuver those uncomfortable moments of politics and family to avoid any potential hard feelings:

Accept that will not change their mind.

First and foremost remember that no matter what you say or how you say it you will not change the other person’s opinion. They believe what they believe as strongly as you believe in what you believe.

Listen then change the subject.

If someone brings up the subject, hear him or her out, but do not engage. Acknowledge what they are saying without agreeing or disagreeing with them, and once you acknowledge them, change the subject. For example…If someone says something about the results or about one of the candidates, acknowledge it and then a second or two later say, “Oh, I almost forgot to tell everyone ___________.” (Filling in the blank with what you want to say.)

Watch your body language.

Body language and tone of voice can have more of an impact than what you say. Crossing your arms and sitting back can appear as though you are disapproving or judging. Using challenging or confrontational language or a “tone of voice” can also appear as though you are baiting the other person, not listening to them. So if you find yourself disagreeing with one of your family members, relax, and remember this is just another person’s opinion—nothing more, nothing less.

Remember to stay cool and calm.

If things start to get out of hand, sit back and take a deep breath, acknowledge to your family that you realize the conversation has taken a wrong turn and that you are going to stop talking and, instead, listen to whoever it is that is talking; then do just that. You can, if you want, ask inquisitive questions so you can learn more about the other person, not about their politics; acknowledge what they say and realize just because you acknowledge someone’s thoughts does not mean you agree with them.

So, go into the holiday festivities prepared for the possibility of a “political conversation,” yet know that you can steer any conversation away from a stress-laden situation to a drama-free day.

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Deanna Brann, Ph.D. more than 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. After running her own private practice for more than 12 years, she spent time later in her career providing business consultation to other private practice professionals in the health care and legal fields. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law is her first book on the topic of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships, with Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict her second book. Brann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology and a Ph.D. in Psychobiological Anthropology

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