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.
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.
- Be prepared. Know the essential facts and points of your position. Imagine a realistic constructive result from the conversation.
- Assess carefully when to argue or not. Is this the right time and place? Will the person be reasonable?
- Clarify your meaning. Your choice of words, body language, attitude, tone and manner of speaking will affect how your message is received.
- Seek to understand. Ask the person to explain their thinking. Listen deeply for meaning.
- Respond by acknowledging their points. You don’t have to agree. Respectfully challenge the facts or their conclusions.
- Stay focused. Beware of distractions, side issues, “straw man” arguments. One issue at a time. Be brief and clear.
- Use understandable language. Keep to the point.
- Creatively resolve deadlock. Find one thing in common.
- Respect the individual. Don’t make the ideas personal. Never humiliate, embarrass, denigrate or insult the other person.
- 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.
“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” — Anonymous