Discussing politics can be incredibly frustrating. When someone has completely opposing views to yours, it’s easy to dig your heels in and turn a discussion into a full-blown argument. You might feel hurt, angry, or sad about the other person’s stance on an issue, especially if it is one that is close to your heart. But there is a way to talk about politics with friends who have different opinions than you without ruining your relationship.
It’s hard when the person you disagree with isn’t a random person from high school, but one of your best friends. You love the person, and nothing could probably change that, but knowing that they hold different views from yours may cause you to think less of them. To stay calm and not lose any love for your friend or family member, you need to choose your words carefully.
No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, disagreeing with loved ones is never fun. Read on for our tips on how to talk politics with friends without things getting out of hand.
Don’t Make It Personal
This is so, so important. The person is your friend, after all! When you are in a heated argument, it often feels easy to resort to low blows. Most times, your hurtful comments have nothing to do with the topic at hand. Try to focus on the issue you are discussing rather than the person you are talking about it with. In addition to not hurting anyone’s feelings, this helps you keep a more level head so you can think of smarter, more convincing arguments for your side.
Even if you think that they hold a view because they are naive, or not as smart as you, or anything else that attacks who they are as a person, DO NOT SAY SO. At least, don’t say so if you want to keep your friendship.
The Only Exception
However, if the person is outright sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory, it is ok to speak up. These are problematic opinions, and if you are offended by them, tell your friend so. They might not even realize it! If they still hold onto their beliefs that are hateful to an entire group of people, you may want to rethink your friendship with that person.
Want to learn more about how to talk politics without hurting your loved ones? Check out Crisis of Our House Divided: A Guide to Talking Politics Without the Noise by Thomas Krannawitter. This book is a quick, easy-to-read guide on how to talk politics with your loved ones calmly and quietly. No more shouting matches at the dinner table!
Chat In Person
Social media has made our lives infinitely easier in many ways. We can keep up with classmates from high school and chat with family members who live far away more efficiently than ever before. Facebook and Twitter are fantastic for congratulating someone on a new job or complimenting a haircut. But when it comes to deeper conversations, talking face-to-face is still the best way to go.
Why does this matter?
In a world where we communicate through technology more often than in person, it can be hard to remember that you are talking to a real person. And someone you consider a close friend or family member at that! Not seeing the person’s face and hearing their voice dehumanizes them. Even though you know inside that your loved one is on the other side of your screen, it’s easier to lash out online. Showing compassion is also harder to do through post comments.
Here’s the deal:
While it is tempting to stew angrily or think about what you will say next, try to actively listen to your friend when it’s her turn to talk. She will appreciate your respect and will likely return the favor. This tactic also helps you form more thoughtful arguments because you’re responding to what your friend said, not just working from a mental script. Apply this to every conversation you have, and you’ll be known as the most thoughtful listener in the group.
Another way to actively listen when you talk politics is to understand how your friend communicates. In The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides, Arnold Kling explains that people with different political beliefs convey their opinions in different ways. Understanding the nuances of your pal’s argument might cool off your debate and help you see them in a new light.
Were you ever in an argument with someone who just kept rambling on without ever trying to hear your side of the story? It’s so frustrating! One way to make sure your conversation partner feels heard is to ask them questions. This works in any type of communication but can be especially impactful when you talk politics with friends.
Questions show that you want to hear what the other person is saying rather than just spouting off everything you want to say. It turns a screaming match into genuine dialogue. Respecting the other person by showing you care what they have to say will likely give the debate a friendlier tone. The best part is that they will probably then do the same for you!
Start your political convo by asking what the person believes in and why. Asking “What’s important to you?” will help you better understand where their political beliefs are coming from. Learning the “why” of your loved one’s opinions can also help you frame your own view in a way that may be more appealing to them, or at least easier to understand.
Want to learn more about how to be a formidable political debate partner? Check out this TED Talk from Robb Willer
Consider Their Context
Everyone’s experience is not the same. Think about that before you bash your friend’s political views. An aspect of their life that you have never dealt with might factor into their beliefs.
For example, they may have grown up in a low-income home situation and relied on food stamps for their daily meals. Or perhaps their parents were teachers who wished for more government funding, and they saw how much unpaid work they put in each week. While an issue may seem unimportant to you, it could be very close to your friend’s heart.
No matter how open we think we are, many of us tend to sort ourselves into friend groups based on our similarities. That’s why it can be hard to understand a friend’s context and, hence, political beliefs, when they are different from our own.
There are some amazing books that address this phenomenon and how it affects our political system. Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart analyzes how our self-sorting tendencies have polarized our political opinions. In #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media by Cass R. Sunstein, the author discusses a similar effect, but on our little corners of the internet. Read these to help you branch out from your tiny part of the world!
Be Ready To Learn
To start any political discussion off on a positive note, leave your assumptions and expectations behind. Instead, go into the conversation with a willingness to learn. If you see every interaction as potentially educational, you won’t be as stubborn or combative.
The key here is being open. Even if you know going in that the friend you are about to talk politics with has opposing views, don’t shut them down right away. They might show you a side of the issue that you never considered before. I’m not saying you have to change your beliefs, just be respectful and ready to learn!
Know Your Stuff
There is nothing more embarrassing in an argument than saying something only to be proved wrong. And when you talk politics, this increases tenfold! How can you expect to win someone to your side if you don’t even know what you are talking about? Before jumping into a political discussion with someone who has opposite views, do your research. Watch the news, read the paper, keep up with current events, and know the names of politicians who are in the spotlight.
A bonus is that when you talk politics with friends who are well-informed on the issue, you can base your discussion on facts rather than opinions and feelings. This practice helps build common ground and make the conversation more productive.
A great place to start is the book Talking Politics? What You Need to Know Before Opening Your Mouth by Sheila Suess Kennedy. It clears up many areas of confusion surrounding the American political system and gives you a better basis on which to form arguments. You will feel more informed and sound much smarter in any political debate!
Re-evaluate Your Relationship
This is a tough one. The entire point of this post is about how to talk about politics with friends and loved ones you don’t agree with. Sometimes, though, that just isn’t possible.
If your friend or family member holds beliefs that you’ll never reconcile, or that diminish who you are as a person, it might be time to take a step back. Obviously, you don’t have to cut everyone out of your life that isn’t a member of the same political party as you! Just consider how important your relationship is compared with your values. For example, if you are gay, and a friend doesn’t believe in marriage equality, you might need to re-evaluate your relationship with this person.
Hanging out with the person frequently (or having them on your social media feed) might hurt rather than help. It may take just a few weeks to cool off, like if an election or another notable event just happened, or you might have to break up with that friend altogether. Choose whatever’s best for your mental health!
After you talk about politics with someone whose views are different from yours, you will likely feel fired up. Rather than go on a social media rant or yell at the person, channel that energy and passion into something more productive. Find out how you can take action to support the causes you believe in, whether it’s in your community or at a national level.
How will this help?
Nobody likes to feel helpless. When you feel like you have hit a wall with discussing politics with someone who disagrees with you, the world can feel dark. However, doing something tangible lets you see real results towards the causes you feel passionate about. Call your representatives, volunteer for local politicians, or take part in a protest or rally. That way, you will have done your part to support your side of the issues that matter most to you. It feels like you have “won” the political debate with your loved one without damaging your relationship with them.
The next time you talk politics with a loved one who does not share your opinions, try to keep your cool. Debating calmly, kindly, and well-informed makes you a great friend and an even better discussion partner! No matter how “woke” you are, learning to branch out and consider other people’s opinions without shouting at them is a lesson we can all benefit from.
By showing respect, asking questions, keeping an open mind, and listening actively, you can talk about hard issues without losing a friend. It all comes down to one rule that we all learned in Kindergarten: treat others the way you would want to be treated. Follow our tips, and you will get your point across without burning any bridges with family or friends.
How do you talk politics with friends without blowing up at the other person? Which of these tips did you find the most helpful? Let us know in the comments below!