How To Talk Politics Without Drawing Blood

Do You Really Want to Get Along?

Well, we have elected a new president, emotions are still running high and the country is divided. There are those of us who are encouraged and hopeful, and those who are angry and frightened. What about you?

Are you interested in understanding, or at least acknowledging, the validity of the perspectives of folks who disagree with you? And, that they have legitimate reasons for their opinions. Or, maybe you believe that those who oppose you are wrong, stupid or evil.

We may say that we want to get along. Unfortunately, what we really mean is that the other person should see things our way. The reality is that we must carry on working and living together despite a contentious election and a divided country. All we have is each other — you and me and a few billion other folks who live on this planet. We can and should decide to treat each other as if it matters, because it does. Because all you can do is all you can do, and it’s incumbent on each of us to do our best.

2016_presidential_election_by_county

So, how do we do that? How about starting with a constructive, optimistic attitude? Suspend assumptions and judgments about people and situations, especially when you lack facts. Recognize that if you want to persuade or influence someone, it is virtually impossible to change someone’s mind by arguing with them. Instead, seek to find common ground by listening to understand what they believe and why it’s important to them. The result? They will be more likely to listen to you. Democracy requires cooperation and engagement as well as competition. Above all, be civil.

Civility is:

  • Claiming and caring for your own identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.
  • Reaching consensus or suspending judgment; agreement is not required.
  • More than just politeness, although politeness is necessary.
  • Disagreeing without disrespect and seeking common ground for dialogues about differences.
  • Listening to others with your heart, mind and strength. It requires hard work to stay present when we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements.
  • Separating your feelings about the person and their opinions from your assumptions about their character, without letting go of your moral and political principles.
  • Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and nobody’s is ignored.

Civility requires:

  • Respect and courtesy in language, demeanor and actions with others.
  • Respectful acknowledgment of individual differences and human decency.
  • Empathy and patience with each other.

Benjamin Franklin famously changed his abrasive and headstrong ways when he discovered that winning arguments was not very useful. Respecting other people led to goodwill and politeness helped him to avoid the bitterness of continuing a conflict. Instead of harshness, arrogance and anger, he embraced decency and kindness to encourage good humor and a willingness to find common ground. Are you willing to learn from Ben Franklin?

Each of us intuitively wants to matter and longs to be heard, understood and respected. We recoil when we feel demeaned, judged or criticized. Showing respect and compassion to others paves the way for finding the common ground that exists between us as humans and citizens.

What if it’s true that life is much more interesting and fun when you adopt a learning attitude, to gain insight and explore — not just to prove that you are right? Embrace a life full of puzzles, questions, opportunities and challenges.

I encourage you to be part of bringing the country together by reaching out to individuals within your sphere of influence. By connecting, one conversation and one interaction at a time, you can bring meaning to the words of Abraham Lincoln who famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Map courtesy Ali Zifan – This file was derived from: USA Counties.svg
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.

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.

trump-hillary
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.