You’re headed to the big holiday gathering at Grandma’s house, and you already feel the dread forming a knot in your stomach. That’s because That Relative is going to be there. You know, That Relative with the big-government ideas who seems to enjoy starting fights about policy over the turkey and mashed potatoes? That Relative who makes snide comments about your beliefs and opinions all evening?

The holidays can be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with families. But all too often conversations about policy quickly result in screaming matches and hurt feelings.

Because changing hearts and minds often depends on forming real relationships first, your family and close friends can be the perfect people to talk to about freedom. So how can you keep the peace during this festive time of year while still having productive conversations with That Relative?

Here’s five tips for making your case while preserving relationships.

Pick Your Moment

Sitting at the family dinner table while everyone is sharing what they’re thankful for or gathering in the parlor to hear the cousins perform their latest piano pieces may not be the best moment to bring up tax policy or corporate cronyism.

Each gathering and each person is different, so choose the right moment to respond to a comment or bring up an issue. That can mean the difference between a productive conversation and a damaged relationship.

Don’t Escalate  

Shouting matches and personal attacks usually result from people taking policy discussions personally. If That Relative starts raising their voice or trying personal attacks, don’t take the bait. Make it clear you’re interested in a discussion instead of an argument by finding common ground and validating their concerns.

For example, you could say: “That’s a great point—it does seem like the economy is rigged against the little guy. But more regulations aren’t going to fix the problem. In fact, we need fewer barriers to opportunity for low-income people. Have you heard about how occupational licensing is keeping people from finding work?”  

Ask Them Questions

Believe it or not, the key to changing That Relative’s mind is often listening. In a recent blog post, our trainer Jhael Hakimian suggests: “Above all else, make the conversation about them. Ask questions about what’s important to them, listen to their answers and let what they say inform how you respond.”

Nothing makes someone feel cared about and validated more than someone showing genuine interest in them. Make it clear they are valuable to you and you’ll be much more likely to have their attention.

Stay on the Island

Have you ever been arguing with someone and suddenly realized you were fighting about a completely different issue than what you started with?

When policy discussions become about “your side vs. their side,” it’s easy to bounce from issue to issue, trying to point out hypocrisy or flaws in the other side’s logic. Yet that’s the best way for a cordial conversation about tax policy to devolve into a screaming match about an elected official.

In one of our posts last week, we talked about using Saul Alinsky’s second rule for radicals in a principled way. The “father of community organizing” believed message discipline was key to making a difference, a point we stress at all of our trainings.

One of our trainers uses a metaphor when talking to activists during his trainings. When you’re talking to people about an issue, he says, imagine yourself on a small island. As long as you stay on that issue, such as education freedom or tax policy, you’re safe. But if you venture off the island, you’re in dangerous territory. There are sharks, big waves and even giant squid.

If you and your team get pulled away from your student-centered message or off the topic of education freedom entirely, it’s going to inevitably result in confusion, fear and retreat. As hard as it can be sometimes, staying on “the island” and staying on message is crucial to winning.

The same is true in keeping conversations with That Relative civil and productive. If they bring up a non-sequitur, gently steer the discussion back to the topic at hand.

Stay Positive and Policy-Focused

This should go without saying, but don’t let your conversation with That Relative devolve into name-calling, personal insults or negative attacks. Stay focused on how the policies you support can help solve problems you both agree on.

Now that you’re prepared for the conversation with That Relative, go out, enjoy some pumpkin pie and change some hearts and minds!

Unlike turkeys and Christmas trees, changing hearts and minds isn’t just for the holidays. Make a commitment in the coming year to become a more effective advocate for freedom by signing up for an upcoming training near you.

Want us to hold an Insight to Action Forum in your area? Click here to request a specific forum focusing on a variety of topics.