Talking Politics! Can We Still Be Friends?


 

It’s no secret that emotions are running higher than usual this election year. We have two flawed candidates and much is at stake. All U. S. citizens have the privilege and the responsibility to vote — in this case for our next president. If we seek out discussions about the election or happen upon them, it is important to decide how we want to handle ourselves.

When I believe something strongly, I have invested my time and energy in forming that opinion. So, when someone criticizes, judges or attacks my position, it can feel very personal. And, I always want to understand their reasoning.

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You’re for [choose one] Trump/Hillary? Are you crazy!

A person’s belief is what they think, a firm opinion. It is not their identity. A position is what you want. An interest is why you want what it and is always more powerful because it encompasses our feelings. It’s what we care about, what motivates us. Because we invest emotionally and identify with issues, when our position is criticized or judged, arguments can begin quickly and escalate.

We imagine that if we show others the facts we have amassed, they will reach the same conclusions that we did. That, of course, is not true. Each individual is unique, has different life experiences, values and priorities. We imagine that if we explain our opinion logically, we can persuade them that ours is the correct conclusion. If we fail to listen and communicate with care and show respect to the person, a contentious interaction or significant disagreement can poison a relationship.

In fact, our brains are designed to be social, to belong and connect. When we talk with like-minded people, friends and associates, it is easy to exchange information, commiserate, support or gripe. When “preaching to the choir,” we usually enjoy affirming our beliefs and positions.

However, if you find yourself in a social or work situation where politics is the topic, decide what you want to have happen. What do these people mean to you? Are the relationships important to protect? Is the issue important to you and are you knowledgeable about it? What is your purpose in participating — learning, arguing or persuading? The goal of a political discussion should be understanding, not winning — see the other person’s perspective; stand in their shoes. Find common ground because we’re in this life together and there is always more than one way to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.

If you do decide to risk discussing politics, here are 10 tips for how to remain civil and have a constructive conversation that stays on track and shows respect to others.

  1. Be prepared. Know the essential facts and points of your position. Imagine a realistic constructive result from the conversation.
  2. Assess carefully when to argue or not. Is this the right time and place? Will the person be reasonable?
  3. Clarify your meaning. Your choice of words, body language, attitude, tone and manner of speaking will affect how your message is received.
  4. Seek to understand. Ask the person to explain their thinking. Listen deeply for meaning.
  5. Respond by acknowledging their points. You don’t have to agree. Respectfully challenge the facts or their conclusions.
  6. Stay focused. Beware of distractions, side issues, “straw man” arguments. One issue at a time. Be brief and clear.
  7. Use understandable language. Keep to the point.
  8. Creatively resolve deadlock. Find one thing in common.
  9. Respect the individual. Don’t make the ideas personal. Never humiliate, embarrass, denigrate or insult the other person.
  10. Be kind always, even when angry. Communicate the source of your disagreement respectfully so the other person can actually hear you.

A free society invites debate, compromise and finding common ground. Citizens need to be morally strong and accountable as well as educated and informed about issues because we’re in this together. Because our Constitution guarantees equal rights for all, we each have the freedom to speak, worship, work, learn and contribute to the general welfare — to be part of a solution.

But, remember:

“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” — Anonymous

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Can Arguing Strengthen Relationships? You Bet It Can!

Have you ever been surprised when a conversation escalates into an argument? Welcome to the human race! But, wait! Before you shut down or attack, take a moment to understand what really happened. Consider it as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Here are a few things to do quickly.

(PS: I don’t promise that this will be easy.)

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  • Stop briefly to understand why the conversation escalated. By doing this you are thinking and choosing your response. This will prevent you from immediately reacting, or to act without thinking of the outcome you desire.
  • Determine if this person and the relationship are important to you? Is this issue important to you?
  • Ask yourself, do I want to have a constructive conversation about the issue or the situation? Or, do I want to prove a point and win? If convincing is your goal, the argument will probably continue and perhaps damage the relationship. If neither of you is willing to engage in a civil discussion, best to leave it alone

It’s important to remember that mutual understanding and respect provide a strong foundation for trust and friendship. Disagreeing without being disagreeable and hostile is much more important than the actual content being discussed. Most of the time, reasonable individuals will acknowledge that others have valid rationale for their differing perspectives and opinions.

Willingness to acknowledge differences about important issues, and knowing where the other person stands and why it’s important, tends to make us feel safer. Transparency helps us to understand, accept and learn about divergent opinions, even when we don’t agree.

Showing respect and regard for others while disagreeing is crucial. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinions and positions. Separate the person from their opinion—it’s not their identity. Denigrating someone for their position gets us nowhere and solves nothing.

Again, I’m not saying that this is easy to do! However, when we are able to respectfully acknowledge viewpoints with which we disagree, we have the opportunity to:

  • Learn more about an issue or a perspective different from our own.
  • Clarify our own thinking when we articulate our opinion and subject it to another person’s challenges.
  • Deepen the relationship by giving respect to the person by understanding their position on an issue of disagreement without criticism or judgment.
Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.