Most people warn against talking politics in polite company. But let’s face it—this campaign is unusually emotionally provocative. It’s captured everyone’s attention. Whether you’re chatting with your neighbor during a walk or enjoying a dinner with some friends of friends, you’re bound to find yourself in a political discussion at some point this election season.
What if that conversation gets heated? Political beliefs, after all, hit close to home. Chatting about them can forge instant alignment—or uncomfortable tension.
When it comes to talking politics outside of your group of close friends, what are the rules of thumb for ensuring you strengthen trust in your relationships, instead of break them?
1. Be clear on your intentions
Trust is built on give-and-take. On mutual exchange. On having as much interest in hearing others’ points of view as expressing your own.
Are you willing to make room for other people and listen to them with the intention to genuinely understand?
Be honest. Consider how you’re inclined to step into political conversations. With the intent to understand—or to persuade? Now’s the time to experiment with setting a course based upon mutual exchange.
Consider what you have to gain through discovering what’s most important to the other person. Think about how you’ll benefit from learning the why of an alternative viewpoint.
Set that higher intention for yourself. Allow it to serve as your compass as the discussion unfolds.
2. Suspend judgment
When something hits close to home, you may be apt to dig in and become attached to your viewpoints. You may find yourself trying to make others wrong. Or judging not just their thoughts, but who they are as people.
The truth? We all judge. Talking politics provides a powerful opportunity to become aware of those tendencies and redirect them. We can catch ourselves and open up. We can give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
Lean in, and support the conversation to extend beyond your perspective. Be ready to test assumptions about where a person is coming from. Because let’s be honest—we all hold assumptions. The only way to get underneath those assumptions is to openly talk them through.
Give yourself that chance to gain clarity.
3. Seek understanding
Trust is built on mutual understanding of core needs. Think about it. Which relationships have you found to be more effective? Those in which you simply guess at what makes one another tick? Or those in which you genuinely know what you each want and need?
Should you feel yourself tightening up over alternative viewpoints, shift your stance. Ask questions. Remember, political beliefs are influenced by lived experiences. Experiences where people have felt served or let down by politicians who hold office—and even by campaigns themselves.
I promise you, there is a compelling story the person you’re speaking with may be willing to share with you, if you’re willing to ask. You may discover why the other person feels so strongly about an opinion. You may learn what causes the greatest concern about this particular campaign’s outcome.
As you talk with people, notice the intensity of their emotions. Consider what that’s telling you about what’s most important to them. A unique aspect of their lives may be revealed—an insight that opens everything up for you.
4. Respect one another’s viewpoints
Gaining authentic understanding of another person doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or shift your point of view. Healthy relationships are based on respect, even when you don’t agree. Respect and honor this other person’s views in the same way you’d like them to honor yours.
You may discover how to respectfully disagree. Consider how refining that skill can fuel healthy ways of relating. Think about the advantage you gain through learning to deepen trust—instead of erode it—through opposition. Such a skill is, after all, becoming a lost art.
5. Discover common ground
You can make room for one another to see things differently, and you may find common ground. Be open to be discovering those points of connection. Keep an open mind.
It may be that while you disagree on solutions, you agree on this country’s core challenges. You may share hopes and aspirations. You may both believe in a higher purpose at play or on the inappropriateness of certain behaviors practiced on the campaign trail.
6. Express gratitude
There’s a chance you’ve received personal information. Your neighbor or friend may have opened up to you, sharing deeper beliefs, values and personal truths. Hopes may have been shared, as well as fears.
Extend a thank you for the willingness to engage and share. Express appreciation for what you’ve received. Signal your gratitude for this way of relating—openly, honestly, authentically. Carry this dialogue with you when you return to business as usual conversations. Why?
Because these rules of thumb hold true for every conversation you have, every day.
About politics. About work. About life.
With coworkers. With friends. With family.
Think about it. When you disagree, instead of making people wrong, you can choose to discover more about them, as whole people. Through your choice, imagine the breakthrough conversations you could support.