I’m sure you’ve noticed, but America is not exactly experiencing domestic tranquility at the moment. We are a country of differing values, different solutions to urgent problems and different opinions on what the future of America should look like. With platforms like social media, the sharing of those differing views has become progressively more hostile and aggressive. Political leaders and candidates even participate in heated back-and-forth arguments online.
But these exchanges aren’t exclusive to our screens. Political conversations with friends and family are awkward, hurtful and sometimes, relationship-ending. With an election looming in our future, it’s on the verge of increasing.
During this political climate, take a vow to engage with your friends and family over politics in a healthy, caring way. Here are some ways to get started:
Pick Your Battles
A one-on-one coffee date with a close friend is a different environment than a birthday party with friends who all have differing views. If you feel like sharing your opinion will get you steamrolled and attacked by a “strength in numbers” scenario, pass on sharing. It’s easy for large-group political discussions to get out of control. However, if you are having a meaningful conversation with one or two friends in a safe place, gently pushing back on a comment or sharing your opposing view can be a great way to open up a positive conversation.
What do you want to achieve out of this conversation? Are you trying to share a different perspective or simply make a point and debate someone into a corner? You most likely aren’t going to change anyone’s mind, but you can introduce them to new information and perspectives that might spark some thought.
Stay Kind and Open When Tensions Rise
Try to approach the conversation with a peaceful and open mind. The expression, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” applies here as well. Give affirmation for issues that you agree on and practice “Hungry Listening.” Hungry Listening includes actions like asking open-ended questions so you can truly explore their perspective. Think aloud about what you are hearing and ask clarifying questions—or use body language that communicates that you are listening and engaged in what they are sharing.
Practicing kindness in tough conversations also includes social media. Political arguments with friends on social media are ending friendships and putting a strain on family relationships at an alarming rate. Be thoughtful about the tone in which you share your opinions and be considerate as to how you are engaging with your friends’ content. Stop to think about how you might word a comment if you were actually face-to-face with the person, not behind a computer screen. And if you feel like the tone or heart of your contribution is not clear in text format, don’t post it. Save it for later when you can have a meaningful, in-person conversation.
Find Areas Where You Agree
Try to find a moment to say, “I agree with that.” As much as your political leanings might differ, there will always be key, underlying concerns and goals that you share. For example, while you might have different solutions to gun control, you most likely share the same concern for keeping your kids safe.
Know When to Move On
This is a big one. There is a fine line between a healthy conversation and a destructive argument. If you feel that either party is getting to an unhealthy emotional place, change the conversation, suggest another activity and end the discussion peacefully. Reinforce maintaining the relationship you have with the other person and tell them that you value them and their opinions.
Ultimately, uncomfortable discussions will happen and you will discover that you politically disagree with one or many of your loved ones. By making a commitment to positive communication and healthy sharing of options, you are showing your loved ones that you care about them, politics aside. In return, hopefully, they will follow your lead.