Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

In Some Families, Politics Is a Topic Best Avoided

DEAR HARRIETTE: My family is divided politically. Even though the election is over, people are still upset.

When we got together over the holidays, one of my uncles (who had had too much to drink) started talking about the presidential election and how he thought the vote was rigged. The opposing uncles jumped in, and I thought it was going to come to blows. It was awful. I know they had all been drinking, but still it was mean and ugly. When I tried to break it up, it just got worse.

What should I have done, and what can I do in the future? They aren't going to change their views. -- Peace Maker, Washington, D.C.

DEAR PEACE MAKER: Tensions were high going into the presidential election, and it was predicted that afterward there would be a lot of bad feelings, no matter who won or lost. It is also relatively common for extended family to include members of different political persuasions. This can be a recipe for major conflict. In your case, the situation was exacerbated by alcohol.

What can you do? Nothing in the midst of a drunken fight. It's best in a situation like that to walk away. You could invite anybody else who isn't intoxicated to walk away, too. Anybody who is already lit is not going to be able to hear the voice of reason.

When your relatives are sober, you can recommend that they agree to disagree on politics and agree not to talk about their political views at family gatherings. This doesn't mean their opinions aren't valued; it means their love of family is greater. Try that.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My assistant has worked for me for less than a year. Because she's the newest member of our team, she doesn't have any vacation days.

She asked me if she could take time off for the holidays anyway. She told me that she wanted to see her family and that they always get together at her mom's house, 300 miles away.

Her question put me in an awkward situation. We have rules at my office about vacation time, but she really put the guilt trip on me -- so much so that I gave her two days off. She hardly said "thank you" after all of that.

I am not happy about this at all. How can I let her know my feelings? -- Annoyed, Dallas

DEAR ANNOYED: Remember that your assistant is young and in need of guidance. Rather than being upset with her, educate her.

Tell her you are disappointed that she seems ungrateful for your extra effort to make her holiday comfortable. Tell her that you realized how lonely she was for her family and that you made an exception so she could be with them. Explain that you expect her to have the basic manners to say "thank you" and to go the extra mile at work because you went the extra mile for her.