Does the idea of talking about politics make you wince? Are you the person who goes silent, crumbles in fear, or stands like a deer in the headlights whenever the subject comes up? Are you unable to get through a political discussion without losing your temper or alienating an entire group of friends?
Politics—especially in a modern context—can be an incredibly tricky subject. Unfortunately, if you currently live in the United States, it’s an almost impossible subject to avoid.
The realm of American politics is a thick, highly-charged stew of opinions, feelings, half-truths, and skewed perspectives.
If you’re not careful, the landmine of political conversation can blow and leave your psyche lodged with word shrapnel for the rest of your life. That’s why we’re going to use today’s discussion to cover the obstacle-ridden path of talking about politics with confidence . . . and civility.
Step One – Know your purpose
I bet that if we really held ourselves accountable, most of us wouldn’t be able to answer the question, “Why am I choosing to engage in this conversation?”
Most of us go into these conversations with a chip on our shoulder: we’re upset, angry, frustrated, hurt, or full of blame, and we want someone or something on which we can discharge those negative emotions. Maybe we even want to feel a sense of superiority by putting someone in their place.
The problem with that is that it is not very productive . . . and it cripples your personal growth.
Riding the high of a political fight is like fueling a marathon with gumdrops: sure the sugar will get you started, but eventually, it’s going to run out, and you won’t even have fumes to run on.
Think about it. When you get in a fight and “put someone in their place,” you feel great—so great that you momentarily forget about your anxiety or social awkwardness or fear. The goal becomes to simply feel that way again, NOT to make a connection or have a good conversation.
If you want a sense of certainty or a feeling of power that isn’t fueled by rage and condescension, then there are much better ways to achieve it.
Are you actually looking to have this conversation—really get involved, learn something, and hear what the other person has to say—or are you looking to get on your soapbox? If you’re leaning toward the latter, then consider switching tactics or sitting this one out.
Step Two – Determine their purpose
Let’s face it: the world is looking more black-and-white every day. The grey in the middle of the spectrum seems like it’s slowly vanishing into thin air.
Most of us want an easy, “Good guy/bad buy,” scenario—it’s what we’re comfortable with. Yet, again, there is a problem inherent in this way of thinking: it sets us up for a winner/loser dynamic in everyday conversation (especially regarding politics). Knowing this when you go into a conversation, however, can be a great benefit to you.
When you know that you’re going into a conversation that will be emotionally charged, it’s good to keep in mind that the other person may see you as the bad guy.
If you’re looking to have a nuanced and respectful conversation, it will never happen while one of you is open to a grey area, and the other person isn’t . . . and it’s okay to acknowledge that from the get-go.
If someone attempts to start a political conversation by calling other people idiots or making other statements that display a lack of thoughtfulness or perspective, then you can simply layout your terms:
I absolutely understand where you’re coming from, and I’d love to get into a dialogue about this with you, but only if it is going to include an engaged and thought-provoking exchange—not if we’re going to rant, throw insults, or get incensed by differing viewpoints.
Just because your Uncle Jim doesn’t believe the things you believe, it doesn’t make him a bad person—but it could make him a person who isn’t worth engaging with when it comes to politics. Know that and be okay with it going into a family dinner, and everyone will be more likely to go home unscathed.
Step Three – Understand your triggers
Even with the best of intentions, there will probably come a time during any political conversation in which you will hear something that makes your blood boil. At that point, all sense of that accepting, open-minded gray area will be likely to disappear, and the other person’s face will promptly be replaced in your mind with a bust of Hitler or a homicidal clown.
When this happens, you do not have to descend into an emotional pit of rage.
We all have triggers . . . but we don’t have to let them dominate our consciousnesses as absolute truths.
If someone pushes a button, simply take a moment to realize that that’s all it is: a button. It’s not an automatic lever that drops people who disagree with you through the floor into flames—it’s simply your personal emotional trigger, and it does not have to signal the end of the conversation.
If you can learn to recognize your triggers and realize that they are keeping you from realizing your greatest potential as a conversationalist—yes, even in the case of political conversations—then you will never have to storm off in a tizzy or shy away from another conversation again.
That being said, it’s time to get down to business: the conversation itself.
Step Four – Get curious
If you’ve studied conversational techniques for even a short while, then you know that people love when you’re curious about them. Nobody likes a person who says, “I don’t care what you have to say—let me tell you what I think.”
Ideally, you want your conversations to possess a lot of back-and-forth . . . but you can’t stop there.
Effective curiosity in conversations is about following your fascination.
Now, if you’re looking for ways to jumpstart conversations in general, you will find plentiful resources on that and other helpful topics at my website, DrAziz.com. Simply visit anytime to find live events, programs, group masterminds, and personal coaching. You can even score a copy of my free eBook, Five Steps to Unleash Your Ultimate Confidence!
In the meantime, however, this particular tactic can be used with great success in political conversations with a few simple questions. For example:
– That’s really interesting. Where did you learn that?
– Have you heard about this information? How does that influence your opinion?
– What from your life made you so passionate about this topic?
In these cases, by expressing your curiosity in a way that follows your fascination with a certain aspect of that person’s history or thought process, you’re keeping yourself on the positive side of critical debate. You’re not doing it to try to prove them wrong—you’re simply doing it to dive into their worldview.
If you really commit to this tactic, it’s truly fascinating how many different conversations you can have with people of all backgrounds and inclinations.
Now, it’s important to remember that people may still get upset with you once in a while (after all, not every person is working as diligently as you are on personal growth). Let’s use an example from real life:
Recently, I was in an Uber with a driver in Portland during the BLM protests. I had my headphones in, but my driver started talking about what was happening, so I politely took them out to talk to her. She was upset about a statue of George Washington being torn down amidst the protests. Rather than agree or disagree as a result of my personal politics, I chose to follow my fascination, and asked her a few questions that would get me deeper into her perspective. After a few of those questions, she abruptly cut off the conversation and said she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
Think about that: why had this woman invited me into a conversation just to end it once I proved interested in her perspective? Could it perhaps be that she was less interested in a conversation, and more interested in having a chance to unload her opinions and feelings?
When you’re engaging in a conversation (even one you don’t invite), it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one who can be triggered.
The fact is that some people out there don’t remember (or never learned) how to have a real conversation. They’ve been spouting their opinions one-sidedly for so long that they don’t know how to engage with questions that really make them consider their thought processes, such as why they feel the way they feel or where they learned the things they “know.”
Your conversations will not always be a success, but with these tactics, you will find that fight-or-flight is a political conversation response that you’re forced to rely on less and less.
Every person you see provides another opportunity to learn and grow. You can uncover and explore and share your ideas; you can have fruitful conversations with people that you love; and you can treat people with respect and accept new perspectives into your realm of thought.
So, get out there and share your perspective as you let others in, as well! You can start below by sharing your thoughts and questions in the comments. What is your typical response to political talk? How can you learn to get control over your triggers so that they don’t keep you from conversing with people who think differently? What is one thing that would keep you curious about someone you find especially off-putting? Let’s keep the conversation alive and learn to respect each other’s differences.
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.