The holidays can be a relaxing time to reconnect with family members, but sometimes conversations during the holidays can be difficult, especially about social and political issues. It can be hard to express your opinions if they're not well-received, which is why The New York Times has created a simple chat program to simulate conversations with family members.
You can select at the beginning of the simulation what opinion you'd like your imaginary aunt or uncle to have, so that you can practice what you might say to family members who share similar views.
The chat bot will purposely send a provocative message. You should start out by selecting the answer you would most likely say if you were in this situation. If the response is right, then you move on to the next part of the conversation. If your response is "wrong," the author has written out an explanation for what might be a better way to handle the situation.
The end of the article explains a simple, five-step process to navigating sensitive topics with relatives:
Ask open-ended, genuinely curious, nonjudgmental questions.
Listen to what people you disagree with say and deepen your understanding with follow-up inquiries.
Reflect back their perspective by summarizing their answers and noting underlying emotions.
Agree before disagreeing by naming ways in which you agree with their point of view.
Share your perspective by telling a story about a personal experience.
Sometimes, it is easier to stay silent and not engage your relative's controversial opinions. But "when we choose avoidance over engagement, we are sacrificing a critical opportunity and responsibility to facilitate social and political change," and that change could start with you.
It's definitely not easy to remain calm when you feel passionately about certain topics. Karin Tamerius, the author of the article, acknowledges that this strategy "puts the burden for keeping the conversation calm on you: Not only must you not trigger the other person, but you must not get triggered yourself."
If you don't think you're feeling safe or ready enough to have these tough conversations, you do not have to. The best change comes when you are in a place best suited to educate others, and you can't help others if you're not okay yourself.
How might we be able to improve this five-step strategy? What are some other productive ways to respond to your "angry uncle?" Let us know in the comments section below!