How to communicate when we don’t always agree
This season brings up different emotions for each of us. Whether or not you’ve been craving family time—it’s different this year. If you plan to communicate in-person or virtually with the people you grew up with, here are a few simple tips that may help your well-being.
Boundaries can support your relationships by front-loading your expectations and needs before a challenge comes up.
Perhaps you’d like everyone to wear masks. Maybe you don’t want to dive right into politics. You don’t eat meat anymore? Whatever it is, that’s ok, that’s you. Setting firm boundaries and communicating them early on to at least one trusted family member can help. This way, you will have an ally who can stand by your side and hold you and others accountable (and mediate, if necessary). Your boundaries can change as you do, but if you don’t communicate what you need—no one will know how to hold you.
We all have our history with family, which often magnifies our challenges.
No matter where we stand in our values, most of us are genuinely trying to do the right thing. We are more polarized in many ways with all that’s come to the surface this year, and yet many of us still choose to spend time having a dialogue, debates, and discussions with family. You are brave. When we remember that we are connected by bonds stronger than race, religion, and politics—we can learn so much from one another even if it makes us want to pull our hair out sometimes.
Also, leading a dialogue with “before I respond to your question, I just want you to know how much I love you” may perhaps help us and our family members feel a little more present and relaxed. Maybe not, but it’s worth a try.
What might this person have to teach you?
Perhaps what we learn is not about the content of the conversation, but about how to relate, listen, and respond rather than react. The Sustained Dialogue Institute defines dialogue as “listening deeply enough to be changed by what you learn.” A slight focus shift from what we’re listening to, to how we’re listening may be the key to depolarizing our dinner tables—and our country.
If you don’t feel safe, respected, or heard, it’s ok to step away.
Unfortunately, setting boundaries doesn’t always mean they will be respected—but if you have made your expectations clear, it will be easier to bring them up again later. Your action to take some space for your well-being may be better understood and carry more weight if you’ve set healthy boundaries and expectations up-front.
Moving our bodies can help us alleviate stress and connect deeper with those around us.
Getting outside, moving our bodies, and playing can help us relax, unwind, and remember why we came back here. Plus, some healthy competition can get some of that pent-up energy out in a healthy way.
When you feel frustrated in a conversation, notice your breath.
Our communication or relationships will stagnate if we’re all holding our breath in frustration. For me, I often feel a fire in my chest and throat when I hear something that doesn’t sit right with me. My breath gets shallow almost immediately. If I speak right away, my voice shakes. Instead of screaming, like my body probably wants me to, I try to take a deep breath. These breaths help me stay calm, and it’s not surprising that I speak and listen better when I’m calm.
No matter what you believe in now, this soil formed you.
You don’t have to have all things in common, but practicing gratitude may help us feel a little better. Gratitude doesn’t have to be blind positivity. You can simultaneously be speaking against an ideal or policy your family supports while being grateful that they taught you to think for yourself. It is human to feel the spectrum of emotions that we all feel when with family.
And if you don’t feel safe in this soil, return to your boundaries and it’s ok to ask for help.
I wish you all well as you embark on this adventure of holidays during the pandemic. Be safe out there.