Seeing family for the holiday? Don’t avoid sensitive topics, Virginia Tech experts say

Posted at 6:39 AM, Dec 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-24 08:08:35-05

The holidays are a wonderful time to see family, break bread together...and debate about impeachment and climate change.

In today's politically-charged climate, it doesn't take much for a merry and bright Christmas gathering to take a dive, but experts at Virginia Tech say don't be afraid to talk about sensitive topics.

“Avoiding contentious issues like climate change is one strategy, but is not always possible or even desirable,” Todd Schenk, an Assistant Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, says in an article published by Virginia Tech. “It is typically healthier to find ways to have more respectful dialogue, and we can often learn in the process.”

Schenk says holidays with family offer a unique opportunity to consider another person's humanity when having difficult discussions.

"If we want to be truly understood and advance our causes, we have to connect with people very different than ourselves," he said.

Schenk suggests using active listening during these discussions: really listening and asking deep questions to show that you're understanding, or at least trying to understand, where the other person is coming from.

"We rarely convince others by belittling them or by sharing our facts alone," he said. "We persuade by meeting people were they are and connecting their values to what we want them to do or believe”.