9 Tips for Navigating Political Conversations
With the election coming up, politics seem to be everywhere. Conversations—and disagreements—are being held on social media, among friends, in the workplace, and around dinner tables. Everyone has an opinion on how our government should be run, with varying levels of intensity. Whether or not you feel passionate about politics, the topic is inescapable. At best, it can be draining. At worst, you find your relationships suffering.
It’s natural for people to disagree with each other. Politics is a nuanced topic, as it encompasses not just political party but so many other issues: immigration, economics, gun control, and public health policy. It’s fair to say no two people will agree one hundred percent with each other. Many of us are finding ourselves stressed and at odds with loved ones or uncomfortable with the opinions of people who surround us daily.
How do we navigate this awkward, and at times uncomfortable, environment? Below are a few tips for keeping your relationships intact, whatever your disagreements may be.
9 Tips to Keep Relationships Intact While Talking Politics
Try to keep calm.
There are several reasons it’s easy to let your emotions boil over while engaged in political conversations. You could be talking about something you feel very strongly about. Another’s opinion may feel hurtful, frustrating, or difficult for you to understand. When emotions run high, harsh language comes out. Know that insults, sarcasm, and other forms of condescension don’t help your cause. Instead, try to take deep breaths, relax your muscles, and let your heart rate come down before responding.
Know when to back out.
If a conversation becomes a heated debate, or a no-holds-barred fight, it’s best to back out. Tell the other person you value your relationship and don’t wish to engage in this conversation. If the other person tries to pull you back in or makes accusations, you may need to remove yourself from the situation by walking away or getting off the phone, social media, etc. It’s better to end a conversation abruptly than stay and risk uglier language.
Consider whether their mind can be changed.
If you know someone feels strongly about a topic you disagree with, they may not change their mind, no matter how well you present your case. It’s best to avoid the topic entirely. In all cases, you should consider the potential consequences of an argument. Will this exchange make it difficult to be around that person? Will your words cause lasting hurt? Will it make it awkward for you to continue to work, study, or live with this person?
Emphasize good intent.
If you choose to engage in a political conversation, make it clear from the start you mean well, and remind yourself the other person means well. Say you will go into the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to learn. This is easier said than done, but by saying this out loud and making it an expectation, you are better able to keep yourselves in check.
Make sure the setting is appropriate.
You may have a good excuse to avoid these conversations, especially if you’re working around customers or patients. It isn’t professional to share your political views in these settings, because it could place you at odds with the people you serve. Heated political conversations can also cause division among you and your co-workers, which could inhibit teamwork.In addition, there could be legal risks. If you speak insensitively about topics like race or religion, you could face accusations of harassment or discrimination. Even if you don’t think you’re saying anything offensive, others could interpret it as such. It’s better to simply steer clear of the political arena when these risks are present.
Set boundaries in advance.
If you plan on being with someone with whom you have opposing views, consider setting clear boundaries and expectations in advance. Reach out to this person, acknowledge you have differences of opinion, and ask that politics be kept out of your time together. Make sure you assure the other person you’re holding yourself to the same standard. It’s extremely important you do your part to follow through with this, otherwise the other person will likely feel hurt and angry, and you’ll end up with a bigger conflict on your hands.
Try to find common ground.
Remember that even when it seems you disagree on every major issue, you can still find something to agree about. Dig deep enough and you may find the roots of your opinions are the same. For example, you may disagree on universal health care, but at the end of the day, you both want your loved ones to get the care they need. To get to these shared core values, try asking questions like, “Why do you believe that?”
Avoid generalizations and labels.
You may not say them out loud, but if you listen to someone’s opposing views and label that person in your mind as “stupid,” or “ignorant,” you will find it much harder to keep calm and have a productive conversation. It’s easy to immediately write someone off this way, and it can damage your relationships. Try to replace these thoughts with kinder ones. Instead of “This person is stupid,” think, “This person sees things differently than I do.” It doesn’t mean you agree any more with their beliefs, but it’s healthier for you.
Remember your opponent’s views came from somewhere.
We are all shaped by our experiences, the cultures we grew up in, the views which were modeled for us, and so many other factors. The neighbor you are arguing with about immigration may have family members who were not able to immigrate legally to the U.S. The friend who is against abortion may have felt the pain of losing an unborn child. Considering these things will help you have more empathy.
Political disagreements are an inevitable part of society. They even serve a purpose by helping us see problems from multiple angles. Instead of going into a political conversation with anxiety or anger, trying to view it as an opportunity to learn. You may or may not come away from it with changed thinking, but you can come away from it with your relationships healthy and intact.
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These blogs were written by members of the CHI Health Behavioral Care team.