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How to defuse and divert hot-button conversations at the dinner table

Diffusing political conversations

You were looking forward to the gatherings of family and friends for spring and summer holidays, graduations and weddings. Then you remembered: It’s an election year. 

Even the most loving group of family and friends is bound to disagree about many topics — especially politics and  — and that’s OK. Diversity, after all, makes the world an interesting place.

But how do you keep opinionated discussions from ruining the otherwise happy conversation around the dinner table?

Set ground rules for dinner conversation – in a lighthearted way. If your family has a tendency to verbally spar over controversial topics, gently remind everyone to try to steer clear of those hot-button topics. 

If they don’t, use humor to help direct the conversation to safer topics. And if that doesn’t work, try these ways for diffusing or redirecting an argument:

Stay calm and don’t take their opinions personally. When someone else voices an opinion different than yours, remember it’s not an attack against you. It’s simply a statement of what they believe or feel. And you have no control over that. 

Take deep, slow breaths. That will help your body calm itself.

Don’t raise your voice, even if the other person does. Speaking normally and calmly can help diffuse a passionate argument and help turn it toward cordial discussion.

Listen more, talk less. Resist the urge to instantly respond to another’s comments. Instead, listen to what they have to say. Say to them: “Tell me more about why you think that way.” Admit you may not see things as they do but that you realize the issue is complex and difficult to resolve, so you want to better understand their point of view. With luck, they’ll want to hear you out, as well.

Pause before answering. If you find your blood pressure rising with their opinions, pause and think for a few moments about why you are bothered by what they say. If you need to respond, do so from the thinking part of your brain, not the emotional part. 

Keep perspective. Remember that politics is like a pendulum, swinging one way, then another. Just be patient. You’ll survive until it swings back in your direction again. 

 

About Shiloh Jiwanlal

Shiloh Jiwanlal MSN, APRN, PMHCNS-BC,  is a clinical nurse specialist for Via Christi Behavioral Health