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Tips for navigating difficult conversations this holiday season

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) In today's politically polarized world, holiday office parties and family gatherings can lead to increased tensions, arguments and even long term damage to important relationships.

Christine Miles, author of the book What is it Costing You Not to Listen, which offers tips on how to navigate difficult conversations, said instead of trying to challenge someone you disagree with, ask them questions like a journalist would to learn the story behind their position.

"Let that person talk more, sit back and listen to understand, seek the perspective they are coming from, and then the de-escalation begins," Miles suggested. "That's not about agreement, that's just about 'where are you coming from?'"

Psychologists have warned holding back your feelings when a funny uncle makes an off-color comment can actually cause harm. Not speaking up can lead to depression and health problems, including immune dysfunction, hypertension and even cancer. Miles noted asking questions is one way to make your voice heard, lower tensions, and decrease defensiveness.

Most people tend to focus on trying to change someone's mind, which is where arguments begin, Miles contended, adding listening can be the best way to stop a fight before it starts.

"Because if someone wants to engage you in a point of view that you don't have, they might just be looking for the argument," Miles pointed out. "If you take the bait, be careful, because that's where the damage can come in."

Miles stressed listening to people who have different opinions, using your natural curiosity, can actually strengthen social bonds and educate younger family members about the value of healthy debate. It is also far less effective -- for example, when trying to solve an important problem -- if you only engage with people who hold the same perspective or worldview.

"It doesn't bring out innovation, and it really misses a lot of important points," Miles asserted. "That civic engagement is huge but we have to manage our differences by seeking to understand, rather than seeking to change minds."