Navigating Difficult Conversations when Calling Family Over the Holidays

December 20, 2023

Calling Family Over The Holidays? How To Handle Difficult Conversations

When you’re calling family over the holidays, sensitive subjects, political differences, age gaps, technology snafus, and stilted relationships can result in difficult conversations.

Polite conversation can be seriously put to the test during what’s supposed to be a happy holiday chat. Sometimes it might feel like the barriers to a cheerful chin-wag are insurmountable, despite our best efforts to keep the conversation flowing smoothly.

When faced with such communication challenges and difficult conversations when calling family, keep these handy lines on hand to help avoid a holiday hang-up.

Conversation Challenge: Sensitive Subjects When Calling Family

If the person on your call tends to probe a little too deeply into sensitive subjects, it’s likely because they care about you and are interested in your life. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to know personal information that you cannot share or do not want to discuss when calling family.

Often a gentle but firm approach is the best way to shut down invasive lines of questioning that would lead to more difficult conversations.

☎️ Line for the Line: “Nothing to report on that, but I promise we’ll always let you know when we have news to share.”

Conversation Challenge: Political Differences

Remember, loved one or not, it’s okay to have boundaries around your individual politics, especially when calling family. It might be a hard lesson learned but most folks realize that a holiday phone call will not be an effective time for the difficult conversation of swaying someone away from their own ideologies or social convictions and trying to do so is often an exercise in futility.

If you choose to chat with this person, steer them towards lighter and inconsequential topics like your favorite cheesy Christmas movies or reminiscing about last year’s dessert disaster.

☎️ Line for the Line: “We don’t see eye to eye on this one, so let’s talk about something else.”

Conversation Challenge: Age Gaps When Calling Family

Kids and teenagers are often *terrible* at talking on the phone since that’s not how their generation communicates. Very young children might forget they’re on a phone call and wander away, distracted. Older kids and tweens are might fumble through basic responses because they can’t see you, and even teenagers might sound stilted and uncomfortable when the phone’s thrust into their hands.

Take advantage of video when talking with someone who might not carry on a conversation with ease by virtue of differences in age — be it significantly older or younger. Show and tell can be a great way to bridge the gap when calling family, particularly around the holidays when people are surrounded by quirky decor or gifts recently received or ready to deliver.

☎️ Line for the Line: “Show me your favorite decoration or ornament this year.”

Challenge: Auditory Processing Disorders or Hard of Hearing Individuals

Whether it’s an older relative with age-related hearing loss or a friend who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing, instead of solely relying on the volume controls, increase your accessibility approach when attempting to navigate this potentially difficult conversation with this loved one on your list.

When calling family, start by ensuring your space is quiet with minimal background noise. If there are multiple voices on your end, take turns speaking.

If you’re on a voice call and the message isn’t being received, try to rephrase what you’re saying rather than repeating it, which can be frustrating for both of you. To that end, be patient. Dismissing a topic might leave the other person feeling as though communicating with them is an inconvenience to you.

For video calls, ensure that the lighting is bright so that they can see your whole face.

☎️ Line for the Line: “What’s your preferred way to chat?”

Conversation Challenge: Unshared Interests when Calling Family

Everyone can relate to the experience of having a friend or loved one for whom they care deeply, despite the fact that they have absolutely nothing in common. It can be tricky to feign interest in something that you’ve never heard of or that you do not understand, and it can be easy to find yourself at a loss when searching for common ground.

Take this difficult conversation as an opportunity to remember that we do not need to understand someone else’s interests to recognize when something brings them joy. When calling family, instead of trying to understand the hobby or item itself, simply ask an open ended question about how they came to love it.

☎️ Line for the Line: “Tell me the story of how you discovered this interest.”

Remember, if calling family is a major stressor around this time of year, but you feel obliged to check in briefly, you can always call them from a temporary phone number from Hushed … and then they won’t have access to your real phone number. They’ll never know …

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