How to Handle Family and Politics Peacefully: A Simple Guide

Updated September 28, 2021
Woman cutting fresh basil with family

It's no secret that family members disagree on a multitude of topics, one of those being politics. Talking politics with loved ones can take a seemingly innocent conversation and turn it into a major point of contention in no time flat, unless great care is taken in how the subject is broached and executed. If you plan to talk politics with loved ones, be sure you have the tools and skills to make your opinions known while maintaining a level of respect for the person on the other end of the conversation.

Family and Politics: Setting the Stage for Peaceful and Productive Conversations

Many folks say family and politics simply don't mix, and it is one of the primary topics of conversation that relatives try and steer clear of during gatherings. Recent years have brought about a spike in political conversation among loved ones, and try as you might, political conversations around the dinner table can feel somewhat unavoidable. Should you have to dive into the often treacherous waters of taboo topics of conversation, know how best to set the stage for peaceful and productive discussions.

Talk Politics One-on-One

Because these conversations can be challenging, it is best to do them one-on-one or in a very small group. When you have too many people in on the conversation, things can spiral out of control. Furthermore, suppose you have a large group of family members conversing about politics, with most participants leaning toward one side of the political spectrum. In that case, the minor opinion holders might feel ganged up on and attacked.

  • One-on-one conversations are easier to leave if needed.
  • In one-on-one talks, neither party will be influenced by the behavior and opinions of others.
  • If you know the conversation could get heated, ask someone you know is a good mediator to join.
  • Do not dominate the conversation.
  • Keep neutral, non-aggressive body language during the conversation (pay attention to your facial expressions as well as your stance)

Save Political Remarks for Informal Gatherings

Backyard barbecues, small family dinners, and similar events are reasonable occasions to talk politics with family members. Everyone is in a casual mood at these types of events, and if an argument breaks out, it won't ruin anyone's special moment. Ensure your family can enjoy the holidays and formal events like weddings or graduation parties by leaving political conversations at the door.

Know Your Audience

Before you bring up a political opinion with your family, know where they stand in politics and how they typically handle disagreements. Before beginning a political conversation, do a bit of sleuthing to determine how they feel about specific topics.

  • If you know a family member has different political views than you and likes to yell and make a scene during disagreements, it's best to avoid the subject.
  • On the other hand, if you know your family member has different political views but respects differences, you can broach the subject cautiously.
  • Consider family generational issues and whether grandparents, for example, have had experiences that might make these conversations charged or painful.
  • If you are unsure where they stand, check their social media pages and see if there are any clues as to what side of the political spectrum they fall on.

Ask If It's Okay to Have the Conversation

You can show your family members respect by asking if it's okay for you to bring up a political topic or opinion. By showing this respect from the start, your family members will feel more comfortable. If they agree, start the conversation. If they don't want to talk politics, respect their wishes and avoid the topic.

woman talking with family

Strategies for Talking Politics With Family

The conversation has been struck, and now all you have to do is speak your mind, advocate for your beliefs and not make an enemy out of a loved one. Not an easy task, to say the least. While speaking politics, remember to do the following in hopes that the conversation stays respectful.

Learn to Listen

Learning to be a good listener will benefit a person in so many facets of life. When talking politics with a family member, it is crucial that you try and spend more time listening than actually speaking. This is easier said than done with a topic such as politics, because you likely have strong opinions on the matter and can probably think of a witty comeback or contradictive fact to refute just about everything the other person says. Don't do this. Hear what the other person is really saying, and model what you hope to see from them when you have a chance to share your views.

Learn to ask people to paraphrase what you are hearing or summarize what you think they are saying. Be sure you understand them completely and correctly before you offer up your own ideas on a political point. Remember that while you feel passionately about a topic, so do they. Respect their values, ideals, and thoughts by giving them the floor and then reiterating what they have said so you can fully understand where they are coming from.

Cultivate Curiosity

Be inquisitive regarding other people's views on the world. Your way isn't the only way, and penetrating people's thoughts and beliefs is a great way to expand your own thinking and understanding. Learn to utilize dialogue that cultivates curiosity and facilitates a sense of respect. Choose phrases like:

  • "I'm curious, have you always felt this way about that issue?"
  • "Tell me more about that."
  • "I hear you. I am interested as to what you think about ________."
  • "What helped you arrive at a change of mind?"

Find Any Common Ground

You think one way, your family member thinks the opposite way, or so you think. Consider the idea that while many political views seem to sit on different sides of the fence, you might both share common ground or values. There are likely one or two things that you agree on. Remind yourself of this, and remember that while the two of you are vastly different in your political views, you don't have to be different in every train of thought or feeling.

Attach Your Political Beliefs to Personal Stories

You can spew forth every fact you can think up to drive your political points home, but that approach isn't always the best to use when speaking with loved ones. Back your ideas up with personal stories and anecdotes on how particular political views and policies are personally affecting you. Those who love you might be more apt to lean in and listen when you are sharing a deeply personal tale of how the political climate is directly impacting your life.

three generation family enjoying dinner together

Know When You're Approaching Your Breaking Point

Knowing and noticing your own internal cues for when you start to feel defensive or stressed out in a conversation is essential. If you feel yourself beginning to get frustrated or angry, take a break from the conversation. Excuse yourself and calm down before restarting the conversation. If you're not someone who calms down quickly or easily, let your family member know that you need to end the discussion for now. Say something like, "I'm sorry, I'm feeling a little stressed right now, and I don't want to say something I'll regret. Can we try this conversation again another time?" You can also choose to press pause by saying something along the lines of, "I think we may need to agree to disagree on this subject."

Understand the Point of Having These Conversations

No one is going to "win" the Thanksgiving dinner political debate. You are not going into this conversation with hopes of changing your Uncle Charlie's thoughts on immigration and border control. While talking politics, know the intent of the conversation. No family politics discussion should be to change a person's mind completely. You likely don't have that power. These conversations should be held to understand loved ones' ideas and thoughts better, open minds to various ways of thinking, and engage in intelligent and insightful conversation during your time together.

End the Conversation on a Good Note

No matter how you or anyone else feels about the conversation, try not to walk away from it with anger or resentment. Try to end the conversation when everyone feels heard and is in a calm state if possible. If it has gotten heated, try saying something to end on a calm note like, "I know we don't agree, but I love you, and I appreciate you sharing your opinions."

When Talking Politics Becomes a No-Fly Zone

Maybe one too many family gatherings have resulted in raised voices, angry glares, and awkward silence, all thanks to differing political opinions. If this is the case, you may want to encourage family not to talk politics while together.

Make a Family Policy If Needed

If you are dealing with difficult family members, or know political conversations are dangerous in your family, make a family policy to avoid them. This is one simple way to avoid political discussions with family.

  • Have a family conversation about why you think everyone should agree to keep their political opinions out of family gatherings.
  • Make sure no one is blamed or singled out.
  • Something as simple as "we won't talk about anything political at the table" can be sufficient.
  • Hang a lighthearted sign on your front door that reads: "Leave your shoes and politics at the door."

Family and Politics Can Mix

If politics are an essential part of your life, it is often possible to peacefully talk about this topic with family. Whether your political views are the same or opposite, your family values are likely similar. Respectful political conversations with family can help you understand each other and broaden your own perspectives. But, if family members can't be respectful with these conversations, it's okay to avoid the topic. The decision is a personal one and may apply differently to various family members. Before engaging in these conversations, put thought into the pros and cons of these interactions.

How to Handle Family and Politics Peacefully: A Simple Guide