By Jamie Sussel Turner ~
This election season has been like no other. And it’s gotten me thinking about the polarization and deep emotions that are exploding daily in the media and sadly spilling over and destroying longstanding relationships.
A client recently shared that she stopped talking with a friend because she just couldn’t accept his political viewpoint. She misses him but finds it excruciating to engage in conversation that has anything to do with his opposing politics. And that’s a hard topic to avoid these days.
This makes me wonder, what is more important: Having political conversations when we disagree or maintaining longtime friendships? That seems to be what it comes down to.
So, can we do both? Can we have political conversations AND maintain friendships? Yes, I think we can. And here’s how.
Stop Trying to Change Minds
Recently I watched this hilarious clip from the classic TV show All in the Family. If you can spare a minute and a half, I encourage you to watch it too. The clip shows Archie and Mike (aka Meathead) talking about the National Anthem, as a baseball game is about to begin. Their conversation starts like this:
Mike: That is one terrible song.
Archie: That’s a beautiful song and shut your face.
As you can imagine their discussion deteriorates quickly, each sticking to their original belief about the National Anthem.
So, my question is this: Could Archie convince Mike that the national anthem is a beautiful song? Could Mike convince Archie that it’s a song that glorifies war? (as Mike describes it)
No. And no.
Neither of them will ever convince the other to see the national anthem the way they do.
And isn’t that exactly what’s going on in our country right now?
Most people are so entrenched in their beliefs that even a speck of movement to the other side is out of the question.
But, how else can we engage in political discourse if we can’t try to convince people to see things differently?
Here are my three tips of what to do instead of trying to sway others to our way of thinking:
- Listen to Understand: Don’t try to convince someone of your views, instead focus on listening to and understanding theirs. Try asking, with a genuine tone of curiosity, “What makes you feel that way?” Control your negative body language and resist screaming, “Whaat!” Instead say, “Tell me more” or “I’m wondering how you know that’s true.”
- Accept People for Who They Are: My mother often gave me this wise advice when I’d complain to her about a friend. I can still hear her saying, “Accept your friends for who they are or move on and let go of the friendship.” There’s a lot, including politics, we won’t agree on. So remember you have a choice. Stop trying to change others’ views and accept them fully or consider ending the relationship.
- Agree to Disagree: Often the best we can hope for is to reach a mutual understanding of our differing points of view. Saying aloud, “I guess we are just going to agree to disagree,” can be one of the calmest ways to bring an intense conversation to a close.
And if you’re on Facebook and your stress skyrockets every time you see a friend’s negative post, remember you can hide their posts without them ever knowing. Shh…I do it all the time.
So, I’d say when we venture into political talk, without trying to sway others, we can maintain our important relationships. What would you say?
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