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How to talk politics with friends and family

Psychological and Counseling Services Last updated

We have all heard the rule about not discussing religion or politics. These days, however, it’s nearly impossible to avoid this heated topic.

Generally speaking, we all have strong views and passionate opinions.

I recently felt bold and asked a family member for an opinion on a particular candidate. I thought my relative might be in support of a candidate, the support of whom completely astounds me.

This relative then shared thoughts and views, and I shared mine.

While it went well, it was risky! It could have certainly become heated and argumentative if we hadn’t both been thoughtful about our words.

It struck me later how simple it is to actually engage in these dialogues.

It also occurred to me how valuable having a conversation about things that truly matter with close friends and family could actually benefit each of us — regardless of our affiliations.

So, to help you survive the time between now and the election, here are some tips:

  • Check your motives before engaging in a conversation with someone about politics.
  • If you feel the urge to ask someone about views, first check in and find out why.
  • Are you hoping to prove your views? Are you hoping to sway someone to your side? Are you feeling a bit feisty and wanting to create a bit of chaos?
  • If your answer to any of these questions is yes (or even maybe), better wait for another day.

The best place to start is when you are truly curious about the thinking of another person. For instance, if you have no idea why someone would support one of the candidates, but really want to know, this would be a good foundation for a healthy conversation.

  • When listening to others, take note of whether you notice yourself wanting to interject, or offer some sort of response. If you notice this, chances are you’ve closed yourself off from listening to hear and are instead listening to respond.
  • When we listen to respond, we often miss out on some of what others are saying because we are busy crafting our response.
  • If you notice these behaviors, re-focus and tune back into the person your talking with.
  • If you are hoping to say something to pull someone toward your views or help them to understand why their candidate can’t possibly work, then you’re unlikely to engage in a truly healthy conversation with mutual respect.
  • Most people take considerable time and energy to acquire the opinions and thoughts they have. It’s highly unlikely that an agenda-driven conversation will change opinions, but a respectful dialogue might inspire both participants to consider all the points.
  • Remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree.
  • Thank your loved one for sharing information and beliefs with you.
  • It is likely the thoughtful and caring way information was exchanged that adds value to your life, rather than the information itself.

And after all, your friendship is likely to outlast election season.

Dr. Traci Lowenthal is the owner of Creative Insights Counseling, a counseling agency in Redlands serving individuals, families, and couples. She can be reached at drlowenthal@mac.com or 909-240-7833.