How to Avoid Politics With Stubborn Relatives

Three Methods:Preventing Political DiscussionsRedirecting Political DiscussionsKeeping Conversations Civil

Politics and religion are topics that are often avoided in public settings and this can be especially true when with family. A discussion on a controversial topic such as politics requires willing participants, open minds and calm demeanors. This can be easier when the discussion takes place without family, but when with family, people often feel more comfortable and less controlled, making them more likely to be offensive or vulnerable. When at family gatherings you can avoid discussing politics with stubborn relatives by preventing the discussions altogether or redirecting them, should they occur.

Method 1
Preventing Political Discussions

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    Consider your comfort level with politics before an event. Before you attend a family event, set boundaries for yourself. Decide what you are and are not comfortable talking about with your family. It's okay if some items are simply off limits for discussion, and you should pick your battles when it comes to politics and family. Draw lines when it comes to topics of discussion, and then stick by these lines to prevent yourself from getting sucked into an argument.[1]
    • This is where you should think about picking your battles. Some opinions will not change, and some subjects are simply not worth debating anymore. Maybe you know you and your Grandma Hattie will never agree on abortion. You also know you and your cousin Michael are simply not going to see eye-to-eye on gay marriage. These should both go on your mental list of off-limit topics.
    • If someone tries to ask you about something you're not comfortable discussing, say so. For example, "Sorry, Aunt Louise, but I would really rather not share my views on abortion. I feel like that's a very private subject for me, and I personally like to keep my opinions on the issue to myself."
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    Avoid political triggers. Over the years, you should have gained some knowledge of controversial subjects that tend to trigger arguments at family events. Whether it's medical marijuana, welfare, birth control, religion, war, or business, know what topics you need to avoid.[2]
    • Innocent questions can trigger an argument. Your career-focused cousin, for example, may constantly get asked why she isn't married, leading to arguments about feminism. Avoid asking potentially loaded questions at events, even if you mean them in an innocent fashion.
    • Politics may come up in conversation naturally. As politics are such a big part of the world, many benign discussions can quickly turn political. While you cannot control your entire family, you can always censor yourself. For example, do you really want to talk to your family about your friend Ellie losing her job due to layoffs in her company? This may seem like an innocent enough fact to you, but it could easily spark a debate about the current economy.
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    Allow a person to express personal frustrations without evaluating their politics. A political rant may only be a side note in a story about a relative's recent troubles as opposed to the start of a political debate. If this is the case, listen to your family member and let them know you are supporting them. Avoid commenting about their political views.[3]
    • For example, say you have strong opinions regarding healthcare. You are very much in favor of recent reforms to the healthcare system. Your uncle has recently undergone a serious surgery, and has had trouble with his insurance. While telling the story, he starts venting about how damaging healthcare reform is.
    • It's okay if you disagree. However, keep in mind your uncle is telling a personal story. He is frustrated with personal issues and feels like he needs to vent. You do not necessarily need to argue with him about healthcare reform at the present moment. Tell him you hope he feels better soon, without explicitly agreeing or disagreeing with his assessment of the healthcare system.
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    Have a way to get out of unwanted discussions ahead of time. In some families, political arguments feel inevitable. No matter how hard you work to avoid triggers, you may inadvertently get dragged into an argument. Before attending an event, think of a few words to say to stop an argument before it begins.[4]
    • Think of a simple and respectful means of derailing a conversation. If your cousin is talking your ear off about abortion, and you strongly disagree with his views, say something like, "Thanks for sharing your perspective, but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree." If you're dealing with a particularly argumentative person, and don't want to openly disagree, you can try something like, "Interesting perspective. I'll have to think about that."
    • Stand firm. If someone keeps bringing up a topic, keep reiterating yourself. For example, say you tell your cousin you have to "agree to disagree" on abortion, and he says, "Why is that? How do you feel?" Say something like, "Let's just not get into it. It's okay that we don't feel the same way."
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    Set a ground rule to avoid politics. If your family has had too many upsetting political encounters, you may just want to simply agree ahead of time to avoid discussions. If there's one family member you strongly disagree with, you may want to make a point of avoiding discussing politics with that person.[5]
    • For example, you and your mother are polar opposites. You're very conservative, while she's very liberal. Try to agree, before a family event rolls around, to just not bring up anything political to keep the peace.

Method 2
Redirecting Political Discussions

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    Recognize that it takes two people to have a political discussion. If your relative has not asked you a direct political question, it may be best to ignore the topic and not add to the discussion. Only partake in conversations that you know will remain calm and respectful.[6]
    • You do not have to share your opinion, even if someone else is. You can keep it to yourself to avoid conflict, especially if you know what the hot button issues in your family are. Is it really worth it to respond if your uncle is hassling you about a political candidate you supported on Facebook this election?[7]
    • Sometimes, it's better to simply bite your tongue. Try to remind yourself you're unlikely to change anyone's mind in a brief argument over the holidays. Try to laugh it off if someone is saying something that irks you. You can always rant to friends later on.
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    Change the subject with an apolitical fact or anecdote. If a political discussion is beginning, find a way to derail it quickly. You can easily change the subject in an uncomfortable conversation by bringing up something tangentially related that's less loaded. See if you can remember any interesting facts or anecdotes related to a political discussion.[8]
    • Say your Aunt Lesley is loudly discussing her opinions on the United States prison system. Try to think of something less loaded you can insert into the discussion.
    • For example, "Speaking of prison, did you guys see that Orange is the New Black show? It's interesting how Netflix is doing its own original stuff now. Strange how TV is changing."
    • This turns the conversation away from prison altogether. While you're bringing up a show related to prison, that has some political undertones, you're turning the conversation towards changing forms of media rather than the show itself.
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    Seek out common ground. If you are asked a direct question, and you simply disagree with someone, try to find commonality. You may be able to prevent a conversation from becoming a debate by trying to find something you can agree on.[9]
    • For example, say you're debating climate change. You can say something like, "Look, at the very least, I think we can both agree we should protect the planet, whether global warming is real at not. Why don't we just leave it at that?" Then, try to change the subject.
    • Again, be persistent. Some relatives may be particularly argumentative, so make an effort to shut this down. Just keep repeating yourself, in different ways. For example, "Yes, I know you don't think global warming is manmade, but we both know our planet is important. We can agree on that."
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    Redirect the conversation by bringing up something that interests the other person. If you get stuck in a political argument and cannot get out, try to find something the other person will want to discuss more. You can try to refer back to a previous topic, or you can ask a personal question. People like to talk about themselves, so oftentimes asking personal questions can trigger a topic change.[10]
    • Maybe you know your cousin Sophie is going through a rough breakup. She loves complaining about her ex, but the conversation has turned to religion. You can say something like, "What church did Chris go to again?" She may start ranting about her ex and abandon the politics.
    • You can also find a personal question to ask to derail the conversation. For example, your Uncle Ted has been complaining about the dangers of medical marijuana, a topic that usually sparks debate. He may say something like, "I never wasted my time on drugs when I was young." Try to say something like, "What kind of things did you do for fun in college?"

Method 3
Keeping Conversations Civil

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    Try to see the other side's perspective. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself sucked into a political debate. If this occurs, at the very least try to keep things respectful. Do not let a discussion turn into an argument.[11][12]
    • Remember, people come into the world with different experiences. While you may disagree with your Uncle Ted, does he have a unique background that may make him feel the way he does about a subject? Can you make an effort to understand him better, even if you don't respect his viewpoint?
    • Ask questions. Instead of seeing this discussion as a chance to win or lose, see it as a chance to gain insight into a point of view that's foreign to you. Ask things like, "Why do you feel that way?" and "Is there a reason you think that?"
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    Contribute your opinion without being argumentative. Political discussion can be healthy. You may not change minds, but you can certainly learn something about another person. You can also give that person a chance to learn something about you. When you disagree, try to share your opinion as an offering rather than an argument.[13]
    • For example, say you're arguing about Planned Parenthood with your very conservative cousin. Say something like, "You know, I guess I see it differently, as I'm friends with a lot of women who don't make a lot of money. Planned Parenthood has always provided services when my friends were in need, so I personally think it's important to keep it funded."
    • Try to empathize with your cousin. Make it clear you are engaging, without wanting to argue. You can follow up with something like, "But I understand, given your views on abortion, why you see it differently." You can also say something like, "But thank you for sharing your opinion."
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    Do not interrupt when someone else is speaking. You may want to change the topic quickly; however, this can appear rude and provoke tempers. Be sure to wait until someone finishes expressing their opinion or asks you a question before commenting or changing the topic.
    • If you are discussing politics and sharing differing opinions, it's especially important not to interrupt. This can come off as argumentative.
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    Stay calm. Regardless of how your family members may be responding during a political discussion, be sure to watch your own anger. People are often unaware of when they raise their voices or say something offensive during a controversial discussion with family members. Getting angry over politics is likely to upset your relatives and can derail a fun family event.[14]
    • Remember, someone having an opposing viewpoint is not a personal attack on you. Keep this in mind when arguing. Do not resort to saying things like, "So you think I'm stupid?"
    • Be aware of the volume of your voice. If you're feeling passionate, you may be raising your voice without meaning to do so. This can come off as arguing, even if you're trying to be respectful.

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Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions