- For many, Thanksgiving means sitting at a table with people who have opposing views.
- We bring you a crowdsourced guide on how to navigate the classic Thanksgiving discussion on politics.
- We’ve got homework for you, too. At your own Thanksgiving gathering, try out our conversational experiment with someone. We’re offering prizes for members who complete it.
How to Talk Politics at Thanksgiving (Or How Not To)
As everyone clears the table of dishes and gives the requisite updates on children, careers, and relationships, the elephant—or donkey—in the room looms. When that argument over partisanship starts up, will you try to hold a productive conversation about contentious issues? Or, if you’d rather not get combative, will you redirect the discussion?
Whichever approach you take, we’ve sought out some advice to help you get the most out of your decision. Today we bring you tips from fellow members, dialogue experts, and the politics staff writer Conor Friedersdorf on how to hold a dialogue, not a debate, with those close to you whose values differ from your own.
If you want to broach the topic …
- Use politics as a chance to get to know your family better. “Ask your uncle if he’s still watching football (the Lions game may already be on). Then ask him if he thinks Cleveland should bring in Kaepernick.” — Don, Masthead member
- Share stories about yourself first. “With that experience as a foundation, [you] can jump into the ‘difficult’ part of the conversation. Having gotten to know each other in more depth than is typical, you tend to be more compassionate toward the other person and there tend to be fewer ‘triggers’ in the conversation.” — Kern, conversation specialist and Masthead member
If you’re in the thick of it ...
- Show that you’re listening. “We are starting to find that ‘back-channeling’ is a really important aspect of resolving conflict. Those are the words or utterances that show that you are listening to the other person, like Hmmm and Uh-huh and Yeah.” — Juliana Schroeder, psychology professor at UC Berkeley
- Ask sincere questions. “When I want to dive in with an approach toward a productive conversation, I ask my family questions to understand more, since getting defensive and arguing back and forth isn’t likely to get us anywhere. They do the same. It’s one of those ‘Well, we can agree to disagree’ things.” — Hannah, Masthead member
- “Emphasize points of agreement, if there are any.” But, just as important, focus on when a point of disagreement gets away from you. In other words, “Be open to the possibility that you're wrong. Seriously.” — Conor Friedersdorf, staff writer
If you want to avoid politics …
- Change the subject (and mind your mother). “The important topics at Thanksgiving have remained the Packers, deer hunting, and the weather (not climate change, but the actual ice and snow we may have driven through to get to the meal). My mother is politically conservative and likes her opinions. I just acknowledge that I’ve listened, and then I mention something about one of my daughters, and Grandma doesn’t mind the change in conversation.” — Steve, Masthead member
An Experiment in Crossing Divides
We’d like you to conduct a conversation using a dialogic technique with someone you know who holds polar-opposite views from you. Read on if you’re game. The first 10 members to share their results of that chat will receive a gift Masthead membership (a $120 value) they can give to their conversation partner.
1. Get a conversation partner.
2. Decide on a specific topic of discussion that the two of you have conflicting stances on. This can be a policy, a political figure, an interpretation of a news event, or anything else.
3. The conversation: Articulate the other's perspective back to them. Your talk, which should take no more than 20 minutes, should look something like this.
Party A makes the case for his side of the argument.
Party B reflects back a summary of what she understands of Party A’s argument. Party B may not raise objections to Party A's argument during this process.
Party A corrects Party B on specific points.
Party B reflects back an adjusted summary of Party A's argument.
Continue until Party A is satisfied with Party B's summary, then switch roles.
4. Email Karen, at firstname.lastname@example.org, one of the following:
- An audio file, if you recorded the conversation
- A transcript, if you held the discussion over text or in our membership forums
- A 100-to-200-word blurb reviewing the conversation. Did your understanding of each other's perspective change? Did you find yourselves more or less argumentative toward each other by the end of it?
This exercise was inspired by Kern Beare, a Masthead member who studies the art and science of dialogue. Questions? Thoughts? Thanksgiving recipes? Reply to this email.
- Today’s Question: What are your Thanksgiving plans? Members from around the country are telling us theirs. Share yours.
- What’s Coming: You won’t get a regular newsletter from us on Friday. But we’ll be back next week with an essay from the Atlantic’s literary editor, Ann Hulbert, on how to write an Atlantic book review.
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