Navigating Sensitive Conversations Across the Political Divide
These days, the age-old etiquette rule of “Never discuss politics in polite company” may be more apropos than ever. These discussions can often be more like walking through a mine field, not having a friendly, open-minded discussion. It’s understandable – after all, over the past few years tensions have never run so high when it comes to topics such as vaccines, healthcare, presidential candidacy, and the racial divide. But sometimes, these conversations are necessary, especially if we hope to eventually bridge the gap between the red and blue, and live in a true Magenta Nation.
Let’s look at how we can navigate these sensitive conversations, using the tips and principles laid out by Braver Angels.
Begin by setting goals and tempering your expectations. What do you expect to accomplish from this conversation? If you’re looking to change someone’s mind, or (in the worst case) to pick a fight, it may be best to move on and focus your energy elsewhere. However, if you are looking to gain perspective, share your own point of view and maybe even find some common ground with someone that you care about, then you are in the right place to approach such a conversation. However, keep in mind that just because you are coming to the table in this manner does not necessarily mean that your conversation partner will reciprocate these feelings. Don’t expect them to match your openness, or that you will reach agreement.
Approach the conversation cautiously. Make sure you choose a calm moment to initiate a conversation like this, and only do so with someone that you think might want to also hear your point of view. Unfortunately, it’s common for people (on either side of the political spectrum) to enter into a conversation with no intention of actually hearing the other person out. They’re looking for a platform to share their own opinions and play “ostrich” when it comes time to hear their conversation partner. If you are new to conversations like this, you may want to start in a one-on-one setting versus having a group conversation – and remember, an online forum is never the right place for this discussion.
Use Braver Angels’ Four Skills Domains
- Set a constructive tone. Starting the conversation off by letting your conversation partner know that you are interested in their point of view, and that you want to have a constructive conversation helps put immediate tensions at ease. Letting the other person know your intentions for the conversation, asking permission to pose questions, acknowledging their political stance, and offering something critical of your own side, while still crediting something positive from theirs are all great ways of setting this tone. Braver Angels offers several example questions that you could ask to accomplish this.
- Listen in a way that makes the other person feel heard. By paraphrasing what they say you can show them that you not only understand what they are telling you, but can also help them feel heard. However, be careful not to suggest any opinions of their view in your paraphrase. You can also ask real questions (not loaded ones). Always be sure to listen for (and acknowledge) their underlying values and aspirations.
- Speak in a way that helps the other person hear you. Using “I-statements”, as opposed to “truth-statements” helps them feel more comfortable. It also helps to make you seem more open-minded to their viewpoints. Bringing attention to areas of similarity or agreement will help you both find common ground. Using personal life experiences to express why you feel strongly about an issue are all ways to share your perspective without coming across in a negative light, and will help you feel heard by your conversation partner.
- Handle difficult moments with patience and more empathy. This can range from not answering baited questions, not returning inflammatory or provocative statements in kind, “agreeing-to-disagree”, or flat out exiting the conversation. These moments happen; what’s important is how you handle them.
Be sure to express to your appreciation for the conversation, and share something that you learned with your conversation partner.
You can find more information at www.braverangels.com.
Interested in healing America? Order "Magenta Nation" today and get started.
Think people can’t change their beliefs? Read “Love or Loyalty” to see the power of forgiveness in healing relationships and our nation.
Wondering about how families can heal, even after death? Read “Love Eternal... One More Time” to be amused and enlightened.