Presentation addresses how to have challenging conversations with relatives

Photo Credit/ NDSU Health Promotions
The holiday edition of the Think talks touched on how to have conversations with opinionated relatives

Relationships can face threats when opposing opinions are discussed

With the holiday season approaching, some will not look forward to the heated conversations that can arise with family. While this year’s family gatherings will look different because of the pandemic, the “Think…How to Talk With Opinionated Family Members” presentation discussed how anyone can have an open mind when talking to relatives that have varying thoughts and opinions.

“I think this is a really important topic,” Kristine Paranica, the NDSU Ombudsperson and presenter, said. Paranica had everyone first think about the conversations that they would like to avoid. Topics included politics, family dynamics, religion and certain expectations some relatives may have.

Some of the reasons why people want to avoid these topics with family include not wanting to damage any relationships as these conversations might cause relatives to choose sides.

Though these topics are often hard to discuss when opinions vary, Paranica talked about what can happen if they are avoided. This can include resentment, shallow relationships and angrier conversations when the topics are brought up.

Participants also got to think about the “triggers” or “big buttons” that get pushed when these conversations arise. Some “big buttons” that can make a person mad are when family members ignore one another when opinions vary or relatives who dismiss ideas that differ from their own.

Paranica encouraged participants to think about the needs not being met when they get triggered during a difficult conversation. By doing this participants could think about how they react and how they would like to respond in the future.

“I think it’s helpful to do a lot of interwork before we start the conversation,” Paranica said when talking about what everyone should remember before bringing up topics that cause conflict. Paranica explained that everyone should remember their interests and needs, the importance of the relationship and what’s at stake for each person.

Starting a conversation with an invitation that acknowledges the differences in opinion helps open up the conversation and make everyone feels heard and respected.

When it comes to preparing for the conversation, Paranica said that it’s important for people to speak from the heart and for themselves. Reflecting on what someone said can help make people feel heard. “It’s a simple thing to do and it really opens people up when we do that.”

Empathy is also important when having conversations. Paranica explained empathy as “it’s about feeling with, not sympathizing. It’s about connecting with them and our own shared feelings.”

After the conversation is over, Paranica said that following up about what was discussed and talking about the relationship can let everyone reflect on what they learned about themselves and each other.

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