I’m from the South—North Carolina, specifically—and now I live in New York. Luckily, my family is extremely accepting of my views, so I often don’t have to deal with many close relatives who want to pick a political fight.
But, when I head home for the holidays, I often will run into an old friend from high school who just has to make an inappropriate joke simply because they know it will make my blood boil. But I do my best to ignore it or brush it off, because it really isn’t worth 40 minutes of heated debate that could end with us not speaking for two months.
Here are my quick tips to avoid engaging with an obnoxious political person during the holidays and some suggestions on how to get them to just put a lid on it.
1. Avoid Subjects That Might Spark Debate
If your relatives have particularly strong beliefs about gun control, then it’s probably best to avoid talking about a recent shooting. If your political beliefs oppose all of your family’s and that’s not something they can accept, then it’s probably best to just talk about what you’ve been up to lately, or to help with the cooking.
This tip is pretty straightforward: make a conscious effort to avoid stirring the pot (unless you’re making a mean soup or stew, of course). It’s nice to be able to talk about the news with family members, and if you can do it peaceably, then go for it. But if chatting idly about news events is anything but idle for one of your family members, then just don’t do it.
2. Keep Busy
Help with the cooking and the cleaning. Watch a movie with your family. Suggest playing a board game or going outside.
When you’re engaged in an activity, it’s much more difficult to start a debate and keep it going. If you have events planned throughout the time you’ll spend with that annoying political relative, then you’ll probably be too busy to engage with them at all.
3. Try Not To Take The Bait—Don’t Even Acknowledge It
If your uncle has a habit of shoving his beliefs down your throat with phrases like, “So did you hear about that idiot politician who did [insert something you support],” then don’t respond. It will be difficult. If he persists, say, “Nope, but these potatoes sure are delicious.” Ignore him completely.
4. Ask The Relative Directly To Stop Bringing Up Politics
My best friend has a cousin who sent her a message before Thanksgiving asking if she was ready to get into a political debate with him. She was obviously frustrated that he was so ready to spout views that she really didn’t want to hear.
If you have a relative that comes prepared like this and who will do anything to antagonize you, then you should just tell them directly that you don’t want to debate with them. Say something like, “We have differing opinions, and I do not want either of us to become angry or upset. I would appreciate it if you stopped talking about that.”
Then, you can simply change the subject or say, “Who wants pie?” I don’t know any obnoxious political person who can keep up a debate after pie is suggested.
5. Talk About Something That Everyone Loves
Most political debates crop up because someone has a bone to pick about a person or subject that they’re dissatisfied with. So, bring up something positive or happy.
If I can’t figure out how to interact with someone, I talk to them about food. “I ate this amazing food in New York recently,” or “When you went on that trip, did you go to any cool restaurants?” Everyone loves food, and a lot of people like talking about food.
If that fails, I try to talk about movies. What has everyone seen recently? What did they think of Jennifer Lawrence’s last “Hunger Games” performance? (Everyone loves J-Law.) Pick happy, easy subjects that almost anyone can talk about, and you’re sure to steer clear of those dangerous political issues.
6. Remind Yourself That This Person Is Your Family
Whenever an obnoxious political person really won’t stop bugging you, take a second to step back and remind yourself that he or she is your family. Focus on who Uncle Bob is and try to separate him from his crazy political beliefs—at least temporarily. Hopefully he has some redeeming qualities so that you can remind yourself that he’s still a great person, even if he gets a little too fired up during the holidays.