The holiday season brings plenty of family visits, office parties and other gatherings, which means plenty of opportunities for fights over policy to break out. In today’s polarized climate, even the most casual conversation about the latest happenings in Washington or your state capital can turn ugly.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The talking heads on television may not be able to discuss policy without shouting each other down, but you can still have a reasoned, respectful conversation with people who disagree with you.
Here’s some do’s and don’ts that can help you keep your conversations civil.
DO be respectful: It’s amazing how far you can get just by treating the other person respectfully. Not everyone has the same opinion as you, but that doesn’t make them stupid. Remember the golden rule—treat others how you would want to be treated.
DO be humble: At the beginning of the discussion, make it clear that you’re open to new ideas and even willing to admit you might be wrong. Expressing humility could make the other person more open to hearing what you have to say.
DO listen: Even if you don’t agree with them, spend time trying to understand why they believe what they believe. If you can understand their perspective, you can be far more persuasive.
DO maintain eye contact: Don’t turn the conversation into a staring contest, but maintaining eye contact lets the person know they are important to you.
DO acknowledge the opposing view: People can have good reasons for believing what they do, even if they are wrong. They might be right about the underlying problems, but wrong about the solution.
For example, someone could be right that well-connected special interests have too much power, but wrong in thinking that bigger government will fix the problem. Acknowledging their perspective, even if you disagree with it, helps keep the conversation respectful.
DO de-escalate: If the conversation starts getting heated, stay calm and compassionate, even if the other person doesn’t. If you need to, agree to disagree and change the subject.
DON’T yell: No argument has ever been won by being the loudest. In fact, digging your heels in and raising your voice will make you less persuasive. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.
DON’T act condescending: You may be right and they may be wrong, but that doesn’t make you smarter than them. Remember to treat the other person with respect and approach the discussion with humility.
DON’T use name calling or personal attacks: You won’t change anyone’s mind this way, and you’ll probably damage the relationship. Don’t throw away a friendship just because you got angry.
Follow these tips, and you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the political minefield this holiday season.