This time of year can bring a lot of opportunities for family, fun and super awkward conversations! The liberal pouring of wine and holiday cocktails, or just the mere sight of relatives can get those controversial family subjects going. Learning how to keep the conversation gracious within the confines of the usual hot topics will go a long way towards having an enjoyable time.
The truth is, we all have to put up with at least one someone that we will never agree with, no matter how long the debate. Most landmine conversations are topics where discussion only deepens the distance. Remember that when you are tempted to jump in with your two cents! It’s a hot topic because a resolution isn’t in sight. So if you are ready to be a warrior for peace – here are some ways to dance between the trip wires and just not talk about it.
The art of avoidance
Knowing your landmines is the first step to not stepping on one. In this climate of political change, politics and religion are usually mind-expanding topics, but in the mix of families plus holidays, the subjects can quickly become over-heated. People hold their convictions pretty strongly. And even if you don’t feel strongly about religion or politics, your lack of a stance will tick off a zealot. Why are these topics such incredibly hot spots for us all? Because it turns personal fast. A disagreement over economic policy can turn into a conversation about fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility and then, you are answering for dropping out of law school. See how easy it is to make politics or religion a segue to an explosion?
How to diffuse this bomb? Say, “I respect where you are coming from. Can I get you something to drink?”
Careful of the past!
You think a family feud is long gone until someone brings up the time the TV mysteriously had a crack in it and accusations fly, one more time. This one can be especially tricky to avoid if someone is especially determined to set the record straight. All families are guilty of revisionist history. And everyone revises things to minimize blame on their part. This is a landmine because there is no way to settle these past grievances except to stop bringing them up in the present. So don’t take the bait! Remember, it’s a trap.
How to diffuse? Say, “That’s water way under the bridge. And I would rather hear about you. What’s been going on in your life lately?”
When it comes to relationship status – don’t ask, let them tell, is a safe stance to take. Yes, we would all like to see our friends or family members in loving lifelong relationships. But that is not permission to ask, “When are you gonna put a ring on this thing?” Even more off limits is the question, “When are you two having kids?” (the answer may be “never!”). These are always, always, personal sensitive questions. They are the most sensitive when you are standing there facing them yourself. Most of the time the question is coming from someone who wants to insert their opinion of marriage or children on you. So unless you have the “right” answer – for them – it’s gonna get touchy. This could even turn into a three way awkward triangle if you and your partner haven’t been in agreement about these areas.
How to diffuse? Say, “Well, we haven’t decided on anything just yet. How are your children?”
How much did that cost? It’s about the same as asking, “How much do you make a year?” It’s just plain tacky! Avoid conversations about money. The person asking is just waiting to make a judgment about what you are worth. Don’t walk into this bear trap because you will have to chew your leg off to get away. Once you answer, more money questions follow. And as you wriggle, you are further trapped!
How to diffuse? Say, “You know, it’s just not coming to mind right now. But I heard you bought a new car/house/lawnmower – how is that working out?”
In the end, some topics are just going to rear their head, no matter what you do. You can’t stop everyone from interacting with each other. But you can use seating charts and planned introductions to keep people apart. So, if you feel an explosion coming, take a breath. If you can’t diffuse it, hang on through the blast. Every conversation has a beginning, middle and an end. Underneath all the ego of argument, people do want to connect with each other. So lead by example and you’ll be through the minefields in no time at all.
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