Introduction: How to Have a GOOD Political Conversation
Political conversations are different for everyone. Some we plan in advance with a friend. Some we expect at family gatherings with that uncle who always brings up the last election. But most political conversations seem to spark when we’re not expecting them, and those situations will be the focus of these instructions.
Keep in mind that in a political discussion, your goal is understanding. If you want to bully someone into accepting your ideology, this post isn’t for you. We’re here to understand politics and the people we speak with. So what do you do when someone on the bus asks who you voted for?
Step 1: Starting the Conversation
The way you start the conversation will impact the rest of its tone, flow, and stakes. Because of this, you need to handle your opening lines carefully and thoughtfully. There are several factors you should consider before you speak.
1.1 What's your goal?
Think about the long-term effects your conversation will have. If the discussion is pointless, or won't end well, it's not worth having. If you can see this discussion as a learning experience or a strength to your relationship with someone, it's worth the try.
1.2 Who’s your audience?
The style of your conversation will likely be different depending on who you are talking to. Is it someone you are willing to talk about delicate topics with? Would it lead to unnecessary debate? How passionate are they about their political stance?
1.3 Where Are You?
It matters where you are during a political discussion. Some schools, churches, or household might have rules about not talking politics. Are you shirking work responsibilities? Whispering during church? The chart below will help you be more tactful.
Step 2: Self Check. Complete the Chart Below
Step 3: Having the Conversation
Now it's time to talk politics! Warm up with a recap of a current event, an opinion statement, or a question.
Remember: you need to be focused on maintaining civil discussion through the entire conversation. It's easy to start out strong only to descend into hostile banter. Though maintaining civil discussion is challenging, there are ways to hold your composure and make the conversation meaningful.
Step 4: Ask Sincere Questions
The tone of your questions will set the tone of the discussion. Dedicate yourself to understanding your conversation partner. Do not focus on “winning the debate.”
On the other hand, even if you agree with what someone is saying, you might have reached the same conclusion through different means or for different reasons. Asking honest, non-threatening questions allows someone to explain themselves without feeling pressure to defend themselves. Their thoughts and opinions can give you a deeper perspective on a complex issue.
Try questions that
- Are open-ended, “Why do you think that?”
- Are clarifying, “What do you mean by___?”
- Are personally applicable, “How does that policy affect you?”
- Check your understanding, “So you’re saying that___”
- Invite discussion, “But wouldn’t ___ be more effective than ___?”
- Use an attacking/incredulous tone, “Oh really? And you think that will help?”
- Make unfair assumptions, “Why do you hate the upper class?”
- Ask questions you know the answers to, “But who actually got elected last round?”
Step 5: Use "I" Statements
A good way to share opinions is through “I” statements--statements that focus on your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. “I” statements are less accusatory: “I disagree,” is much better than, “You said something I disagree with.” Taking turns sharing these “I” statements with your conversation partner will prevent any negative assumptions of the other person.
- “I am worried that (insert politician’s name)’s tax policy will harm middle America.”
- “I think that the government should stay out of marriage, since it is a personal event.”
- “I believe that the best way for environmental issues to be dealt with is through government programs.”
- Assume negative intentions of your conversation partner.
- Cut them off before they have finished their explanation.
- Say their statement is “stupid” or other such words.
Step 6: Be Aware of Your Emotions
Emotional and passionate statements can be hurtful and insensitive. Take a moment every couple minutes to ask yourself, “Am I being respectful of my friend’s opinions? Are they being respectful of mine?” If the answer to either of those questions is “No,” it’s time to either apologize for being insensitive or gently change the topic.
Pay attention to
- Your breathing
- If you suddenly feel hot
- The volume of your voices
- Tension in your hands or jaw
- Raise your voice.
- Assume the other person is attacking you.
- Call names.
- Accept verbal abuse from your conversation partner.
Step 7: Ending the Conversation
If you want the conversation to be a positive experience, you need to end on a good note. Most people will primarily remember the last things you said. There are several techniques you can try to lower the temperature (if there is one) and end with both of you happy.
7.1 Summarize Takeaways
This shows humility and willingness to learn. While you shouldn’t expect to completely change the other person’s mind, you can explore their opinion or fortify your own. Make sure you ask for sources that you can research to try to understand complex political issues better.
7.2 Agree to Disagree
It is never worth arguing so intensely that you end up losing a friend. Decide together that you will agree to disagree on political issues. Show respect to the other person but acknowledge their opinion. While nothing is directly resolved, it conveys respect.
7.3 Thank Them for the Conversation
You likely will not agree on everything, and that is just fine. The least you can do is thank them for the conversation. A word of gratitude is the perfect way to reassure your conversation partner. If your conversation had the potential to get hostile, a “thank you” might even be a pleasant surprise in today’s politically divisive climate.
Step 8: Keep Trying
Political issues are complex. There are a variety of solutions that each political idea provides, and neither side is perfect. But your taking the time to understand both sides of an issue will develop a stronger sense of community around you. You can find good in each political ideology.
Open and calm conversation is the only way to turn down the heat that political debate usually creates. We are not as divided as we may think. This is why it’s important to challenge ourselves to ask those tough questions. Communication helps us empathize with one another. Empathy leads to peace, and we could all use more of that.