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Preserving post-election harmony this holiday season

By Suzanne Potter. Reprinted from Public News Service.

Experts have tips on how to politely discuss politics, if you must, with your relatives and coworkers during the holidays. (Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile)

SANTA FE, N.M. – For many, feelings are still raw after the presidential election, which could make for some difficult conversations over the holidays. So, experts in productive conversation have a few tips to help survive the season with your relationships intact. 

Parisa Parsa, executive director of the company Essential Partners, notes that you can only control your side of the conversation. She suggests you start by asking yourself a few questions.

She asks, "Why do you want to connect? What do you hope to learn? Are you ready to be in a grounded enough place to resist angry outbursts? And are you willing to try to understand or will you feel the need to persuade or get them to concede, on points of disagreement?"

If someone else gets on their soapbox, and you choose to participate in the conversation anyway, she suggests approaching them in an open, caring and curious way. Parsa explains that people on each side of an issue often come "armed" with their own set of facts, and studies have shown that giving them more information rarely changes anyone's mind.

Joan Blades, a partner at the website livingroomconversations.org, says society as a whole benefits when people on opposite sides of the spectrum make an effort to really listen to each other.

"When we fail to talk to people with different viewpoints and just talk to people that think like us, we actually make our own viewpoints more extreme," she explains. "It's really helpful when we have a shared narrative."

Blades adds that conversations flourish when people follow the rules they learned in kindergarten: be respectful, take turns and be responsible for your part of the discussion.

The late psychologist Marshall Rosenberg developed a globally recognized four-step approach to nonviolent communications: "Observe & recap," "Describe emotions, not positions," "Identify needs," and "Make a request." 

Rosenberg's work is widely taught and shared through the Center for Nonviolent Communication; another rich source for information is the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation.