Even though the election is over, political talk, feelings about the results and the reactions from “the other side” are still palpable. Facebook posts, coffee shop conversations, conversations over lunch at work or with friends continue hourly, daily. On Facebook we can exit the conversation quickly and easily, but what do we do if we have strong feelings about the election and someone with strong feelings in the opposite direction is sitting across from us at the Thanksgiving table? Do we say something in hopes of persuading them to see the light? Do we sit and stew and have indigestion? Do we get up and leave?
Certainly how you respond might depend on how the other person is behaving. One type of reaction might feel more appropriate if the person is silent in their opposition versus the one or ones who are regaling in the win or lamenting the loss.
Here are four tips for navigating the potential emotional landmines if conversation turns to politics.
1) Be prepared.
If you are hosting, you know your guest list and you will likely have some idea of your guests’ political leanings. Consider assigning seats with some cute or clever place cards that groups together like minded people. That way, if a conversation between a few people is untenable for some guests, they can start their own thread of conversation.
If you are a guest, you might know most of the people attending but not all. My number one suggestion, if you are hoping to avoid conflict, is that if you do not know everyone at the table and their political leanings, don’t bring up election results.
Secondarily, prepare in advance for how you will respond if someone says something that is upsetting. Perhaps the preparation includes telling your host or certain guests that if the conversation is difficult, you will _________________ (leave the table for a few minutes, change the subject, etc.).
2) Be strategic.
If you are a guest, if it is possible, claim a seat at the table near someone who is more like-minded and if the conversation becomes hairy, strike up that alternate conversation. You may still be able to hear the other conversation but you do not have to actively listen or engage. If you can stomach listening to those with very different opinions about the election, you may gain insight into what lead them to their decision.
3) Be direct.
If you are hosting, feel free to reach out to guests in advance asking that due to the heated feelings of many following this election, you are requesting no political discussion this year.
You can also post an announcement requesting no political discussion or place a note at everyone’s seat. If you are being invited to a home where you suspect the conversation will be inflammatory, consider skipping that party this year. Relatives may not understand, but you deserve to have a peaceful celebration. If that is not available with your family or usual holiday guests, this is the one time you may need to see if there is a seat at a friend’s table.
4) Be curious.
Perhaps you enjoy political banter and you want to engage in discussion. If your aim is to do so without the discussion devolving into an argument, be genuinely curious. Come prepared with questions that will help you understand the thinking of “the other side”.
In the words of Sun Tzu in the Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
While I do not love the analogy of war and battles, the idea of the importance of knowing the thinking of the other side may be useful as a way to better understand what to do next.
Some of you might wonder why you should have to change your plans or work so hard to not be subjected to political vitriol on Thanksgiving, of all days. It’s a fair question. You may be someone who believes you should be able to express your opinion, and that honest, fair debate and disagreement should be possible. For some gatherings this year, honest, fair debate may be possible. And yet, the very deep seated fear and anger, frustration and disgust that have accompanied this election, on both sides, means that for many, their psyches are full and there is still much emotion left to be digested and metabolized.
Not unlike the aftermath of a Thanksgiving meal, the digestion process will take time. We will need time and space for the feelings to evolve. In the meantime, you are not likely to accomplish much by taking it on at the Thanksgiving table.
Wishing you a peaceful Thanksgiving.