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Want to avoid political turmoil at Christmas lunch? Here are 6 framing techniques

Christmas: a time of joy, reflection, and fiery arguments with your loved ones. But Ellie Malpas of Media Bounty says it needn’t be that way – here’s how you can frame your way out of fighting.

As advertisers, our job is to get our messages across in compelling, convincing ways. Why, then, do I have to tie my hands together with tinsel every year to stop myself flinging various festive food items at my politically misaligned family?

This year, there’s no need for Brussels sprouts to become ‘accidental’ bullets. My day job at Media Bounty has given me the chance to work on ACT Climate Labs, a project dedicated to improving the effectiveness of climate communications and reducing the impact of misinformation on public sentiment.

To save everyone from tears, I’m extending this know-how from the realms of climate communications to Christmas tables across the UK.

1. Start on common ground

This can be difficult, especially if some of your distant relatives believe the government are secret lizards. But this is an essential first step in building the trust needed to have a meaningful debate. For example:

“Yes, I agree that the recent government have been particularly cold-blooded, however I would be interested to see which sources this argument has come from. Can we be sure they are trustworthy?”

2. Be open-minded

Immediately calling a loved one an out-of-touch buffoon, surprisingly, is not an effective way of getting your point across. There are many reasons people think and believe the things they do. Remembering this will help you remain calm. It will also allow your opponent to fully develop their side of the story, which not only shows them the respect needed to not further fuel any divisions, but will help you to develop a constructive counter-attack.

3. ‘Sticky facts’

I can’t be the only one who has dashed to the toilet mid-debate to retrieve some argument-shattering facts. However, facts can sometimes lead to disengagement. To make sure they have the desired impact, we must ‘stickify’ them first. This means rooting them in personal benefit and making sure they are tangible and easy to understand. Say, for example, the topic of immigration arises and you’re a bottle of red wine down:

“16.5% of NHS workers are immigrants. When you or one of your loved ones are sick, it’s likely that one of the 220,000 nurses from overseas are there to make sure you recover safely. We rely on people from all over the world for a well-functioning society.”

4. Use framing to own the story

Framing is the way a story is presented. It can heavily influence the way we view the issue at hand. For example, uncle Gregory has read a lot online that transitioning to renewable energy will stunt growth, especially as other countries aren’t doing their bit. We can reframe this topic to show the opportunity renewable energy can actually bring:

“Getting ahead with renewables is a great chance for Britain to lead in the next industrial revolution, bringing more jobs and cleaner air for us all to enjoy.”

5. Know your trusted messengers

People are likely to trust information which comes from others that share their core values and political alignment. I know first-hand that bringing up a lefty podcast host as a basis for your stance is unlikely to convince a family member on the opposite side of the spectrum. Instead we can look to sources that are trusted by a wide range of people, scientists. David Attenborough and the BBC are a few examples that tend to be trusted by people on all sides of the political spectrum.

6. Benefit > sacrifice

People don’t like things being taken away from them, full stop. If we are trying to defend or promote a new behaviour it is therefore best to stray away from relying on moral obligation alone and instead try to pull out individual benefits.

Let’s say your roasted cauliflower centre piece is getting even more roasting from the meat devotees on the table. Focusing on the health and money saving benefits of a vegan diet is probably more effective than talking about the animal’s feelings.

So there you go: some tips I will be following this year for a (hopefully) more peaceful festive season. For more actionable tips on talking to a mainstream audience, check out Media Bounty’s ACT Climate Labs’ bi-weekly newsletters.


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