We’ve all been in that awkward situation. You’re having a holiday dinner at your in-law’s house,
or having coffee with friends on a Saturday morning. Somebody brings up politics. And that
somebody has very different opinions than you.
What do you say or do? Nothing?
Here’s how to decide:
- Know Your Facts
If you choose to respond, you want to try to stay calm and stick to the facts. Perhaps you’re able
to relate the conversation to something that impacts you personally, like an immigrant neighbor
or health care. Or talk about how the tax cuts have actually impacted people negatively. Take a
tip from candidates – personal stories have impact.
Your response is more likely to be listened to if you are calm and factual, as opposed to being
highly emotional and using extreme language. Remember the wise words of Michelle Obama:
when they go low, we go high.
- Know Your Audience
Some people are more open to civil discussions. Others are convinced that their opinion is
actually fact, and there is no discussion to be had. Others may even attack you personally.
If you think that you can have an open discussion, and that both sides are open to
understanding (as opposed to winning), then dive right in. Just because someone is politically
opposite of you doesn’t mean they are a bad person, or wrong. Look for common grounds, and
try to dig deeper on why they feel that way, and offer the same.
But if you are presented with black or white thinking (“I’m right and you’re wrong”), or even
attacked, the conversation probably isn’t worth the effort or the stress. Pass the snacks and talk
football. (. . . but, maybe not the Bengals this year).
You might see your friend or family member as someone who isn’t willing to change their mind
or see your point of view. Flip the script. How open are you to other points of view? You may
think you’re open-minded, but are you?
If you can listen to someone’s political stance and understand why they might feel the way they
do, then you’re probably good to proceed with the debate. Or you might look in the mirror and
say “you know, I just can’t talk about that”. And that’s ok! If that’s the case, you have a choice to
make. You can either join the debate with the possibility that it will turn into a full-blown
argument. Or, you can gracefully back out of the conversation. If you know yourself, you can be
prepared for the possibility.
Running into an election year, you can expect these difficult conversations to come up at some
point in time. Seek out like-minded friends and family for conversations for your sanity.
Prepare yourself ahead of time for the difficult conversations. But seek understanding where
you can to help restore civility.