Navigating Difficult Family Conversations

Hi First-Years,


Yes, it’s that time of year again: Thanksgiving! Along with the good food and Netflix binge-ing that the break will bring, there is also another element that goes along with the holidays- family time. Now regardless of whether you’re close with your family or not, chances are that you’ll be having some interesting conversations with those you call family. This applies to friend and colleagues too!

Whether it’s discussing world events, the recent Presidential election or other personal issues and stories, these conversations can sometimes quickly turn sour if they aren’t handled in the right way. With that being said, here are a few tips on how you can survive the twists and turns of conversations:

1. Listen, think, and then respond.

Oftentimes we have a tendency to “zone out” when people are talking to us. As they’re speaking, we’re off in la la land thinking about what our plans are for later or daydreaming about our pets. So, for example, when aunt Gladice is talking to you about her views on climate change LISTEN FIRST- really hear what the person is saying to you. THINK about what they said and what your response will be and then RESPOND in an appropriate way.

2.  Agree to disagree 

Sometimes there are certain people or topics of discussion that you might want to stay away from. Examples include issues like politics, religion, environmental concerns etc. Now I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t have these conversations at all. However, use caution when talking with family/friends/co-workers about hot button issues. Some people are so set in their ways that it can be difficult for them to hear anything else besides what they know to be true. Make sure you know when to agree to disagree and move the conversation along.

3. Make sure you’re in a safe space

Another important element to having these tricky conversations is to make sure that you are in a safe space where there isn’t a threat of you being harmed in some way. It all has to do with how you feel inn those moments. For example, you might feel safe talking about religious issues with your uncle but may not feel comfortable having the same conversation with a friend who is very set in their ways when it comes to that topic. Above all- trust your gut and if you don’t feel safe walk away.

4. Know where you stand  

Knowing where you stand on issues that may be talked about is equally important. It’s a good idea to do some research on world events, politics, religious issues, local events as well as the good things that are happening all the time. This way, you’ll start to form your own opinions about where you stand on different issues and it’ll be easier for you to express your viewpoints. *Note: This doesn’t just mean listening to the media (which is often bias or doesn’t tell the whole story). Get your information from multiple sources- newspapers, credible social media, articles, journals etc. and you’ll have a greater understanding of the big picture of what’s going on.

5. Be open to new ideas 

Lastly, be open to new ideas! As you read up on events and issues, hear other people’s viewpoints and form your own opinions, know that it’s perfectly OK for your views to change. The fact is that people change all the time- this includes your thoughts and feelings.When you’re open to new ideas, you’ll come out the other side as a more well-rounded and thoughtful person.

I hope that you’ve found these tips useful for navigating conversations that can sometimes be difficult. Also, if you ever need someone to talk to (about school, family life, work, life etc.) us Mentors in the First-Year Experience office are always down to grab a coffee or take a walk to chat. We’re located in Meier hall 100A-so stop by when you wanna chat!

And remember…

Love yourself with a kung-fu grip. 

GIPHY Studios Originals thanksgiving turkey pilgrim happy thanksgiving


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