- Political talk can be tricky to navigate: It’s a highly polarizing subject with the potential for the conversation to quickly deteriorate.
- Like it or not, political conversations will inevitably come your way: But knowing how to talk to someone with differing political views is essential to avoiding awkwardness or irritation.
- Before diving into a political conversation, determine if the time and place of the conversation are appropriate, avoid a “know-it-all” attitude, check your body language, and practice mindful techniques.
- And when you can, limit political talk to reminding your friends to register and/or vote, writing to your representatives, or engaging in conversations that aren’t likely to escalate to a heated debate—mutual respect is key.
During election season, headlines and ads about candidates fill our feeds. Emails about voter registration swarm our inboxes. Political opinions dominate our conversations. Arguments flood our social media accounts and more importantly, our relationships.
And whether we like it or not, politics are on our minds. There are some people who do enjoy election season—they thrive in conversations with people on both sides of the political aisle. But then there’s the flip side of the coin: Those who would rather not talk politics… at least when it comes to talking to family, friends, or others with differing political opinions. However, sometimes it’s inevitable. A friend on Facebook shares an article that concerns (or enrages) you; a family member brings up the election at dinner; a coworker asks your opinion after reading something you tweeted. The possibilities are endless, but we all find ourselves in situations of the like, especially during election season.
So, how do we talk about differing political opinions without fighting? Is it even possible to have a productive conversation when friends have different political views? It’s a complicated dance but it can be done. Start by following the guidelines below.
1. Consider time and place.
There is a time and place for everything. It might not be the time and place for a conversation about politics if:
- You’re at work
- You’ve landed on an already-heated Facebook thread
- You’re already feeling angry or upset
- You’ve never gotten along with the individual
However, if someone says something in person or online that you feel compelled to comment on, you can always ask them to have a conversation with you at a later date. For example, if your friend shares a controversial article on Facebook that you’d like to discuss with them, send them a message. Ask if they’d be willing to talk. Try: “Hey! I hope you’ve been well. I just saw the article that you shared. Maybe we could grab lunch and chat about it one day, if you’re interested!” This message isn’t confrontational—instead, it sets the scene for a calm, productive conversation.
2. Don’t set out to prove your friend wrong.
A conversation is an exchange of ideas. If your primary mission is to prove the other person wrong, you shouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. Not to mention that changing someone’s mind is a huge feat (especially when it comes to political ideals). Think about it: How likely are you to change your stance on any given political issue? How likely are you to take the opposing party’s side? Probably not very likely. Research shows that people would prefer to deny new information if it challenges long-held beliefs and their worldviews. So, don’t expect to prove your friend or family member wrong. They probably won’t buy into it. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t listen to and learn from each other (even if it’s just how to communicate with someone who has different political views).
3. Stop thinking about what you’ll say next.
When friends have different political views, they have to listen to one another. Most of us are guilty of preparing our next spiel instead of listening to the person we’re engaging with. This happens all of the time, not just when we talk politics. Try to correct this bad habit; listen to what the individual in front of you is saying. This goes back to us feeling uncomfortable in the face of new information when it threatens what we know to be true about the world. In addition to withholding any expectations of changing your friend’s opinions, challenge yourself to push through any discomfort you might feel to hear your friend out.
4. Check your body language and tone.
What are you communicating? Not just with your words, but your body language, your tone, and your gestures. Your words won’t come across as calm or friendly if you are…
- Shouting at the individual
- Pacing the room
- Scoffing or laughing
- Throwing your hands up in frustration
- Using emojis in a sarcastic or demeaning way
- Literally pulling your hair out
Stay relaxed. Keep the conversation friendly and respectful, both in how you talk to the individual and how you communicate with your tone, your hands, your facial expressions, (and even the emojis that you use). Fortunately, if you work to stay calm during your conversation, your body should follow suit and you shouldn’t have to think too far into it.
5. Practice calming techniques.
If you feel upset or overwhelmed at any point, take a step back to calm down. If you’re having this conversation online, walk away from your phone or computer for a minute to breathe. Inhale through your nose for four seconds; hold for four; and then exhale for four more. Repeat these steps until you feel relaxed. Only continue with the conversation when you feel like you can continue communicating calmly and respectfully. If you’re having this conversation in person, you can practice this same breathing technique. Or, if you need to physically remove yourself from the conversation (for the moment or for good), don’t be afraid to say so. Just let your friend or family member know that you’d rather not continue. Odds are, they’d rather change the topic too, if it’s going poorly.
6. Know where to expend your efforts.
Finally, be smart about where you expend your efforts and what to devote your energy to. For example, if the person that you’re engaging with can’t keep their cool, isn’t communicating respectfully, or isn’t interested at all in what you have to say, this conversation is probably a waste of your time. But don’t feel so defeated. Redirect this energy and take action. Try:
- Reminding your friends to register to vote
- Donating to a cause that you really care about
- Signing a petition on change.org
- Writing a letter to your state senators
- Talking politics with someone who will reciprocate respect
There’s a reason why politics are NSFW (not suited for work). Talking about politics often means arguing about politics. However, it is possible to have a calm, respectful conversation when friends and family members have different political views. Follow the guidelines above and give it your best go!