How to get past political divides and enjoy the holidays with friends and family

Thanksgiving is about food, family and what you’re thankful for. But it’s also sometimes about heated political debates, and a Virginia Tech professor who researches civil discourse has tips on how to get past political divides at the Thanksgiving table.

Assistant professor Todd Schenk said that in a year of deep political division, it can be tough coming together with friends and family who don’t agree.

Schenk created the Civility Project at Virginia Tech due to what he believes has been the lack of civil discourse in past years. The project explores how facilitating civil dialogue among individuals with opposing views can create mutual understanding.

As the holidays approach, Schenk offered a few tips on how to find common ground on political issues.

  • Acknowledge that you don’t agree. And if you think it’s important and you want to have conversations about things you disagree on, set aside some time for that.
  • Once you engage, Schenk said do it from a perspective of understanding. He encourages asking probing questions and acknowledging that your mind probably won’t change but actually listen to what the other person is saying.
  • Describe your own views but do not make assumptions around others’. “We’re asking because we are curious and we want to know, and we probably have some sense of why they believe what they believe, but we very well might be wrong.”
  • Suspend judgment. He said be ready to question assumptions and respectfully interrogate but to hold off on making judgments. He said you have every right to challenge your counterparts just as you are expected to justify your side of the argument.
  • Speak honestly. Schenk said this can be challenging but being vulnerable in these conversations can be useful in finding common ground.
  • Live by some ground rules. Be thoughtful in your verbal and nonverbal language, communicate respectfully, try not to interrupt, speak clearly and don’t dominate the conversation.
  • Be ready to really engage and be ready to have the conversations if that’s what you decide.

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