Five Tips for Surviving Holiday Conversations

November 29, 2016 Elizabeth Johnsen

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

Candied yams aren’t the only thing getting sticky this holiday season.

Coming together to be with friends and family can be a wonderful time of reflection and enjoyment—but after such a contentious election and with so many people feeling so much is at stake, it can also be a conversation minefield. Engaging constructively with folks whose views and experiences lead them to champion narratives that feel anathema to our own can be a challenge. However, by taking a step back and starting conversations with shared values, we can find points of connection that move us forward together and make sure that the fireworks don’t come out until the Fourth of July.

Image of Saturday Night Live comedians at the dinner table for a holiday meal
Photo courtesy of Saturday Night Live

Centering conversations around values doesn’t mean being preachy or high-handed, but rather connecting discussions to universal values that we all care about. Our experience and research show that if we present only a litany of facts and rhetoric, we run a high risk of losing people—either by detailing specific policies that aren’t familiar, leading others to tune out (you don’t want to lose them to the football game!), or by presenting information that conflicts with their core beliefs, which can lead to digging in heels and disregarding facts, no matter how many you rattle off.

By framing complicated or controversial issues in terms of shared values, stories, and metaphors, we can build understanding and support for the issues we care about, creating a personal connection for our loved ones to our work and issues.

Opportunity is one theme that can unite diverse audiences while building bridges across a range of social justice issues including immigration, economic justice, civil and human rights, criminal justice, employment, education, and other spheres where opportunity is at risk. There are many other themes and values that provide a foundation for the work we all do. We encourage you to check out the messaging advice and holiday conversation guides below, which covers some of the hot-button topics likely to be swirling around the holiday table this year.

Messaging Advice

Thanks to AndACTION for compiling most of these great resources. Though many were written for Thanksgiving, the advice will be useful through the upcoming holiday season as well:

Holiday Conversation Guides

For more messaging tips and advice, check out Vision, Values, and Voice: A Communications Toolkit and our online communications toolkit.