We’ve all been there: you’ve just stepped into the elevator or the coffee shop line or the break room, and there he is—that one friend, coworker or family member who just WILL NOT stop talking about politics.

If you’re an American or have been anywhere near the U.S. in recent years, you know that politics is, shall we say, “divisive” at the moment—even more so than usual. While many of us have learned from recent history to veer away from political discussions when possible, others continue to actively seek them out . . . and not for peaceful reasons.

In my last episode, we discussed how to remain cool, confident, and civil during political discussions when you believe they will help you to connect with other people. But what do you do when approached by someone who you know will make that connection difficult when it comes to politics?

Not everyone always has time to let in new perspectives—sometimes you just need to turn the conversation off.

Usually, when we’re trying to avoid political conversations with people, it’s because we know that they don’t do political discussions effectively. They either monopolize the conversation or go on emotionally-fueled rants or use the conversation as a soapbox to express their own opinions one-sidedly.

While I normally encourage all of my clients to approach the things they’re avoiding, this is one case in which I will happily let you off the hook: you do NOT need to subject yourself to that.

When someone is into an open exchange of ideas, differing viewpoints can be enlightening—but when all they want to do is win or be right, it’s a waste of time. As responsible, mature conversationalists, we certainly need to be able to have tough conversations that will allow us to improve our lives. At the same time, however, we also need to be able to stop conversations that aren’t serving us.

So, how do we address the conversation in a way that asserts our most authentic selves without burning bridges?

The answer to that problem lies in the MVP question, What do I want?

If you’ve been following these articles for some time, you may have already read my book, Not Nice, which dives into how this question can benefit you in multiple areas of your life. If not, I recommend that you check it out as a jumping-off point for your personal growth.

Why is this such an important question? Because it lets us know the direction in which we need to steer our boat.

Being aware of what you don’t want can only do so much. If you truly want to guide a conversation (and your life) in a direction that serves your goals, then you need to know what you DO want.

Let’s say you want Uncle Jim to stop talking about politics. Well, simply wanting that is going to do absolutely nothing because you can’t control other people’s actions through telepathy. You can also tell Uncle Jim that he needs to stop talking about politics. That’s a step forward certainly because at least you’ve made your distaste known, rather than sitting there silently as his punching bag.

But what happens when we take a moment to consider what we want?

If you actually take a beat and uncover your desires, you give yourself the chance to express them in a way that makes their outcome possible.

Do you simply want to avoid the conversation for today? Would you prefer to never talk about politics ever again? Do you want it to be more of a dialogue than a one-sided rant? All of these things are possible, but only if you express that wish.

Clarity is power, so the more specific you can be about your wishes for these conversations, the better. It doesn’t have to be an aggressive stance, either—we can put the kibosh on a conversation with civility.

One of my favorite methods for engaging in what could be an awkward conversation is to use the words, “I’ve noticed”:

          Uncle Jim, I’ve noticed that you’ve been bringing up politics around me lately. Have you noticed that?

          Uncle Jim, I’ve noticed that you tend to share a lot during political conversations, but don’t do a lot of listening. Have you noticed that?

What you’re doing here is creating space, letting your thoughts be known in a non-threatening way, and putting the ball in their court.

Side note: it’s important here to be clear and concise. Many of my clients are the kinds of people who will rhetorically “apologize” for an assertive statement by adding a bunch of unnecessary language. We live in a 30-second-ad-buy world. The people who disagree with you do not have the attention span for a three-minute explanation of your feelings. Get your thought out clearly, and don’t be afraid to pause in silence as you wait for a response.

Once you’ve done that, you may receive a dozen different emotional responses: they might be defensive, open to what you say, hurt, or they may even shut down. The good news is that, at that point, you’ve created a chance to steer the conversation in a more beneficial path:

I don’t want to upset you, but this is a pattern I’ve noticed, and if I’m going to engage in these conversations, then I need there to be space for me to share my thoughts and ask questions. It needs to be a dialogue. Is that something you’re open to?

Again, you’re putting the ball in his court. Maybe he goes along with it; maybe he doesn’t; maybe he says he’ll try, and then goes on doing the same things he’s always done. At that point, it might be time to cut your losses:

You know, Uncle Jim, I appreciate you trying to do this a little differently, but the conversation is taking its usual path, so I think I’d prefer not to talk about politics from now on when we’re at family gatherings.

Now, by simply going after what you want, you’ve achieved the goal of finding out if Uncle Jim is capable of real political dialogue and you’ve set boundaries. By getting specific about what you want out of these conversations, you can express yourself more clearly and get the results you’ve been seeking.

Of course, if you want to learn more about being “less nice,” and how to apply these tactics to other areas of your life and then I highly recommend visiting my website, DrAziz.com. On that page, you’ll gain access to several highly effective resources for becoming a more authentic, expressive, powerful version of yourself, including personal coaching, live events, group masterminds, and publications dedicated to confidence development and personal growth. If you’re dedicated to developing your assertiveness in a supportive environment that will produce radical and rapid transformation in your life, then this is the community for you!

So, go test this technique out and see what it can do for your sanity as a political conversationalist. I also recommend sharing your experiences and questions below. How did it go for you? What was the person’s response? Were you able to come to an understanding and set boundaries? Let’s see how you can really apply this in your life, not just in political discussions, but in any area that you feel you’ve lost your conversational control.

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.

Dr. Aziz