The American electoral system is, at its core, a competition: Ideas and opinions face off so that citizens can choose a winner on its merits. However, this competitive spirit and the rivalries that come with it don’t fade away once election season is over, which can make it challenging to talk politics with someone who doesn’t share your views. This feels especially true today as political squabbles among strangers, friends, and family alike play out around dinner tables, on social media, and across other impromptu battlegrounds. Even the most innocent and well-intentioned remark can erupt into a political flashpoint.
This passion that we have for our own beliefs shouldn’t drive a wedge between us and others who hold opposing viewpoints. Another core element of American politics, after all, is honest and open dialogue, so it’s imperative that we work to overcome provincialism.
Of course, when the debate becomes tense and tempers start to flare, keeping an open mind and staying respectful can be easier said than done; thankfully, there are strategies that make this process more attainable. Take a look at how you can become a master of civil discourse and learn to politely disagree.
If you simply can’t understand why someone holds the viewpoint that they do, don’t simply write them off as ill-informed or irrational. Instead, ask questions to determine why they believe what they do. Their answers might reinforce your own thinking and beliefs, but at the same time, this socratic strategy can also help you uncover the logic behind their ideas, which is the first step to understanding and respecting those ideas.
Recognize Their Points
Give credit where credit is due! When you think that your counterpart has a good point, tell them so. Acknowledging the merits of their views will make them feel heard and respected, and as a result, they will be more likely to hear you out as well. Even when you disagree, you can use a phrase like “I see your point, and I think that…” to continue the conversation in a respectful way.
Keep Emotion in Check
The knee-jerk reaction of hearing your opinions criticized is often to let emotion—most likely anger—take over. While natural, the consequence of such a response is for the discussion to fall of the rails as both parties become frustrated and stubborn. So, the next time you wander into a political conversation, do your best to recognize your anger and emotion and prevent it from running wild so that you can focus on the other person’s argument and avoid descending into insults.
Social media can make it even more difficult to stay calm since it’s easier to overlook the other person’s emotions when you’re separated by a screen. For more guidance on this, take a look at what our Executive Vice President, Dan Centinello, has to say about talking politics on social media.
There’s no better way to understand someone than to walk a mile in their shoes. That certainly applies to politics: If you can’t bring yourself to respect what your counterpart has to say, then swap roles and try to defend the other’s position. This can help you understand and internalize alternate arguments, and it can also help to make you more comfortable with having your own viewpoint challenged or discussed.