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How to Converse with Controversy

Monday, November 08, 2021

By: Colin Turpin

Edmond Family Counseling

Fall is upon us! For many, this time of year is reminiscent of holidays, family gatherings, and connecting with others. Everything starts going so well during your yearly traditions, but then IT happens: Your uncle brings up their view on vaccines. Your sister starts a tirade about religiosity. Your nephew asks what political candidate you voted for during the last election cycle. The peace and unity you worked so hard to create is shattered in seconds. With 2021’s endless list of divisive topics, is it even possible to keep the peace at social gatherings anymore? Here are five tips to make tough conversations less likely to start a fist-fight while passing the mashed potatoes:

  1. Focus conversations on ideas, not on the other person. When talking about difficult topics, a quick way to kill the conversation is to bring up previous hurtful behavior or hypocritical practices. Focus on what is being talked about in the moment and save conversations of boundaries and past hurts for another time. This will also keep the conversation civil during heated topics.
  2. Speak for yourself in short statements. We often assume what other people think and feel, but this can lead to miscommunication and hurt. Especially when talking about difficult subjects, speak only about your experiences and let others explain theirs. Keeping our sentences short will allow for others to process what is said and will allow for clarifying questions in real-time.
  3. Aim for understanding of others, not agreement. Strive to understand what someone is saying without endorsing what they believe in. Be curious and seek to get the whole picture of their idea, no matter how foolish it seems to you in the moment. Wait until they have expressed their idea in full before you rebut with your own ideas.
  4. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Once you hear their point of view, it can be tempting to write others off as just being “idiots” or “brainwashed”. Fight this temptation. Assuming that others are believing things logically and for good reasons will give them dignity and will keep the conversation going further than it would otherwise. Once again, during an argument about ideas is not the time to bring up previous hurts or hypocrisies.
  5. Restate their point of view. When people do not feel like they are being heard, they will often repeat phrases over and over again during arguments. Saying phrases like “It sounds like you mean…”, “Correct me if I’m wrong…”, or “Let me see if I’m understanding you correctly” will both let them know that you’re listening as well as give them a chance to clarify their ideas. This can also be a great way to de-escalate tense situations.

Increased time with family almost always comes with increased conflict. As you plan to break bread with those in your social circles this Fall, perhaps for the first time in months or years, it would behoove you to practice talking about difficult subjects. Using these techniques may not solve all of your arguments with loved ones, but they can be a great first step in resolving conflict that arises from our differences. Watch out for when people escalate their volume, say hurtful phrases, interpret ideas in the worst light, or totally avoid others that they need to talk to. Take short breaks if needed, but get back in there and finish those conversations!

Colin Turpin, M.A., LPC-C is a staff therapist at Edmond Family Counseling. Edmond Family Counseling is a non-profit organization. We may be reached at 405-341-3554 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professional counselors. Donations may be made to Edmond Family Counseling, 1251 N. Broadway, Edmond, OK 73034 or online @www.edmondfamily.org by clicking the YELLOW DONATE button. Follow us on our Facebook Page @ Edmond Family Counseling for additional information regarding mental health awareness.

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