Etiquette experts have long advised us to avoid talking about sex, money, politics and religion – for good reason. People have strong, emotional ties to these subjects that tend to cause a lot of conflict and hard feelings.
We are in a very contentious presidential election and a lot of people want to talk about politics. Emotions are running high and there are some widely different opinions on what is the best course of action. Since we all have different life experiences, hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations, there might be some truth to all the different opinions. What is true for you may not be true for someone else, and vice versa.
If you want to enter into a political discussion, with some planning you can talk politics respectfully and productively. There are several considerations to making it work:
- Make sure the other people in your discussion are comfortable participating, even if they are simply listening. If some cannot agree to the ground rules, find another topic of conversation and leave politics for another time and audience.
- Recognize it is an emotional subject and that when people are emotional they are not able to think clearly. Take time to make sure everyone is relaxed. If there is alcohol involved, it is better to find another topic to talk about.
- Two critical ground rules are treating everyone with respect and withholding judgment. The best way to accomplish this is to focus on gaining a better understanding of the different viewpoints: “Help me better understand.”
- Listening to what others have to say is critical. Listen with an open mind and ask clarifying questions.
- Take turns talking. If someone tries to monopolize the conversation and persuade you to change your views, respectfully remind them that you listened to them and you now want them to listen to you: “I listened to you with respect, and now it is my turn. Please afford me the same respect I offered you.”
- Pay attention to your body language. Crossing your arms defensively, making “tsk” and other judgmental sounds, rolling your eyes, sneering and other gestures are not respectful and can easily escalate the conversation into conflict. Reminding yourself that you are simply trying to understand an opposing view will help you manage your body language.
- It is a given that people can agree to disagree. Don’t have to try to end the conversation by stating you will have to agree to disagree; this can sound angry, judgmental or otherwise unpleasant. Instead, thank the others for expressing their opinions respectfully and suggest moving on to a different topic.
- If someone suggests moving on, don’t try to insist on a last word or two. Respect that they are disengaging and move on with them.
It isn’t easy discussing politics with people who disagree, but it can be done if everyone is committed to maintaining respect. If you feel compelled to try it, make sure you are calm and that everyone else agrees to maintain the ground rules.