With vaccines and rapid COVID-19 tests widely available, many people will be able to reconnect with family members from pre-pandemic times this holiday season.
But with every big family gathering, you run the risk of controversial conversations, and this year, COVID-19 is under the spotlight.
The last thing anyone wants clouding their holiday joy is a heated conversation around the dinner table with a distant relative claiming that the vaccine is a hoax and that masks are ineffective.
While each family dynamic is different, here is some advice with input from interpersonal communications professor Jeff Kerssen-Griep that may aid in easing some of the tension this year.
Figure out your family dynamic
There are some families who find an argument exhilarating and there are others who avoid any conflict at all. Before you engage in conversation, think to yourself: will this be productive, or will it end in yelling and tears? Once you figure that out, you can then establish boundaries.
Let’s say you have a relative that won’t stop bringing up the fact that everyone attending had to get a COVID-19 test. Don’t feel inclined to pursue the conversation if it makes you uncomfortable.
“Feel free to negotiate the parameters of what you want to talk about,” Kerssen-Griep said. “It’s okay to say, ‘Oh grandpa, I don’t want to talk about this with you. How’s grandma?’”
Don’t be defensive
It can be hard to remain civil with a relative when their beliefs are in complete contradiction to yours, especially when you’re passionate about the topic. But if you want to try to have a productive conversation, raise the issue in a non-hostile way.
“Respond to criticism with curiosity,” Kerssen-Griep said. “‘Tell me more is an interesting, unexpected move, and often is effective because it’s novel. It’s not what they’re expecting you to do.”
Rather than coming at them with your own research, which may come off as an attack, gently encourage critical thinking by asking questions.
Remind them why they’re there
It may seem inevitable that conflict will arise, but some parting piece of advice is to remind your loved ones that you’re gathering to reconnect with one another, not to instigate a fight. Find the things that connect you to one another, and focus on that.
“It’s not just about avoiding things,” Kerssen-Griep said. “It’s about walking toward the things that you genuinely love, and are looking forward to.”
Janea Melido is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.