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How To Tackle Controversial Issues During Meals

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) --  The holidays can bring a lot of cheer and conversation, but sometimes they can sour when hot-button issues are brought up.

"Holidays are often a special time to catch up with family and friends, but things can turn sour when you and Uncle Joe come to blows around an issue like climate change," said Virginia Tech Professor Todd Schenk.

But instead of avoiding it, Schenk says you should engage in productive dialogue.

"It is typically healthier to find ways to have more respectful dialogue, and we can often learn in the process," said Schenk.

For those willing to dive into the conversation, he has some tips to turn a sour speech into constructive conversation.

  • Respect the person you are speaking with and accept that they have positive and negative traits.
  • Abide by a set of 'ground rules' such as no personal attacks and no interrupting.
  • Describe your views while avoiding assumptions about others.
  • Practice 'active listening' by asking questions to further understand the other person's views and show that you understand what they are saying. Be open to that person's views.
  • If it's science-oriented, like climate change, engage in a mini 'fact-finding' process where both of you learn where your opinions converge and diverge. Which sources do both of you agree are credible or not?

Schenk offered one last piece of advice which he says is many times the most difficult.

"Think before you speak. We all say things we regret from time to time, but those situations are best avoided if we can," said Schenk. 

If all else fails, he says there's always eggnog.

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