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The holidays are coming soon. Here's how to talk politics with your uncle!

Posted: Sun, Dec 2, 2018 3:39 PM

In the last few years, it's become more and more difficult to discuss politics with other people.  That's because passions are riding high on both sides of the political divide--among both conservatives and liberals.

University of Minnesota professor Bill Doherty, the Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at UM, believes it doesn't have to be that way.  Over the weekend he taught two dozen Decorah residents some tips on how to survive family dinners over the holidays.

Doherty says one of the reasons family dinners are so difficult now is that they're one of the last sources of political diversity in our society, with churches, social groups and even offices becoming more homogeneous in the people they attract.  Certainly Facebook has fed into this "siloing" of the American public--Doherty concedes that blasting someone with a different political belief on Facebook "is appealing in some ways."

But you're going to continue to sit at the same table as your relatives in the future.  That's why Doherty says it's a good idea to resist the urge to get into a shouting match.  Instead, "make sure you understand what the other person has said."  You can do this through a technique Doherty calls paraphrasing--restating what you think the other person has said.  It's important you don't inject your own opinion while you're paraphrasing.

He also suggests asking the other people what experiences they have had that have led them to hold a particular political view.  He says stories can humanize us and give us an understanding of why another person believes what they believe.  He also suggests pointing out areas where the two of you agree as a way to prevent angry discussions.

Still, Doherty realizes you'll occasionally have a relative who enjoys arguing and doesn't want to listen to what you have to say.  In cases like that, he says, it's better to say, "I see this completely differently," and then walk away and talk with a different relative if necessary.

(To learn more about Doherty's organization, Better Angels, visit