Don’t bring your ballot to the table

Counselors explain how to keep cool when holiday talk gets political

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published November 19, 2016

Shutterstock image


METRO DETROIT — You managed to stay cool on social media during the entire political season. You didn’t once snap at Uncle Bruce’s relentless posts bashing your candidate, and now that the election is over you can take a deep breath and relax.

But wait.

Thanksgiving is this week, and even more holidays are just around the corner.

You’ll have to see family members on either side of the aisle, and face it, there just isn’t enough pie to bring them all together.

You’re not alone.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Carrie Krawiec, of the Birmingham Maple Clinic, said some of her patients are already panicking about how they’ll handle sitting down to their holiday table so soon after the contentious presidential election.

“I think people have been encountering (arguments) during the entire duration of this election for the past two years, and of course increasingly so leading up to the election. Now that it’s passed, though, it can be very rough. A handful of people have told me they’re anxious about the holidays and what conversations might come up,” Krawiec said.

Her advice? Whether you’re ready to engage in a heated discussion or you want to avoid Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton entirely, be prepared to make your intentions known.

“If people are feeling compelled to talk about the election because they have strong beliefs and they want to address some of the issues with their family, they should have a conversation with themselves,” she explained. “They should ask themselves, ‘What is my intent?’ If the intent is to learn or engage or understand more, that’s a good place to proceed. If the intent is to confront or persuade or humiliate, that’s not in the spirit of the holidays. It really takes some self-reflection.”

Beginning a sensitive discussion without first asking would be akin to barging right into someone’s private home without ringing the doorbell first, she said.

Once you’re prepared to have the conversation yourself, Krawiec suggested making sure others are interested in chatting too. She suggested making it known to holiday guests that you might want to talk about the election, and asking if anyone objects or would like to step away from the topic. Otherwise, if you spring the race results on your family and friends without warning, you risk offending some people and ruining their celebration.

“It’s a little too raw to talk about this right now for some people, so trying to talk about it over a holiday dinner is going to be upsetting and maybe a boundary violation to the host,” Krawiec said. “You just don’t know, so it’s best to get permission to ask if there’s anyone interested in talking about the election or a certain issue — ‘Could we talk about that?’ ‘Could we avoid talking about this?’ ‘Could it be honored if someone says no thank you?’”

If you’re going to dive in, Krawiec added that you should set up some parameters like no name calling, no eye rolling, no swearing. It may sound like playground rules, but political talk can get out of hand fast.

Trying your best to see the other person’s point of view will help to keep things civil if the topic does come up, according to Mary Michail, a Madison Heights-based psychotherapist.

“Try to listen instead of just attacking. Conflict arises when people just defend instead of really listening and trying to understand why someone else feels that way,” Michail said.

Using words to reflect your respect for an opponent’s position helps too. Saying things like, “I understand where you’re coming from, but I disagree,” or, “Yeah, I get it. That must be a really frustrating situation, especially if you feel so passionately.”

The goal is to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and not to invalidate them.

“You never want to tell someone to get over it and move on. Let them have their feelings,” Krawiec said.

When you’ve had enough, politely remove yourself from a conversation when you’re ready. If it helps, have some lines ready to go if such an occasion arises, or even ask a spouse to bail you out and ask for your help in the kitchen if they notice things getting out of hand.

You could also try steering the discussion toward broader subjects, like whether older family members have ever encountered a similar political occurrence in their time and how they responded. Krawiec said that’s a great opportunity to teach younger partygoers life lessons on tolerance and resilience.

Or you could always take Grandma’s sage advice and go with a simple option: Don’t talk about it.

“If there are going to be people around who aren’t on your side, just avoid talking about it altogether,” said Michail. “At this point, you’re not going to convince the other party to see things your way, so it’s going to ensue into a huge, terrible argument and people’s feelings will get hurt.”