How to Navigate Holiday Conversations

November 24, 2020

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

The holidays can be a wonderful time of reflection and enjoyment—but after such a tumultuous year that raised critical questions about public health, racial justice, the economy and politics, getting together with family (hopefully over Zoom) can also be a conversation minefield. Engaging constructively with family members whose views and experiences are at odds with 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 care about. Our experience and research shows 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.