How to talk politics and stay friends
2024 is a big year for politics. And it can be hard to talk about candidates and issues with our loved ones.
Sharon McMahon, also known as @sharonsaysso on Instagram or “America’s Government Teacher,” has five tips to maintain civility in a divisive time.
- Seek first to understand before being understood: “You know, it is human nature that we all desperately – and subconsciously – want to feel understood. It helps us feel like we belong, it helps us feel like other people care about us. And this idea is something that you can practice in all aspects of your life, whether it’s business or politics, that people often do not listen to other people until they feel understood themselves. So if you want somebody to be able to listen to your perspective on a hot-button issue, the best way to get them to listen to your perspective is to first listen to theirs.”
- Listening to understand doesn’t obligate you to agree: “I think so often today, we feel like by even having a conversation with somebody who has a different view than we do, that we are giving them, that view, our approval. But that’s not true at all. And there’s a tremendous amount that can be learned from understanding somebody else’s perspective.”
- Approach conversations from a “what can I learn” perspective: “It begins with a posture of, ‘I would love to hear more about how you first came to understand this thing.’ ‘I would love to hear more about — can you tell me more about when you first started to believe this thing?’ Rather than approaching it from a perspective of, ‘Why do you think that?’ That’s exactly what happens in the comments section of Facebook.”
- People’s choices make just as much sense to them as yours do to you: “We believe that we have made a good-faith effort to make those choices, that we’re holding opinions that are based in reason and that we are acting in the best interests of ourselves and our community when we take action on those things. And so often I think when we’re talking to somebody on the other side of the aisle, we assume the opposite. We assume the opposite of them. We think to ourselves, they believe this because they’re stupid. They believe this because they’re uneducated. They believe this because they want to hurt other people. Other people’s opinions make just as much sense to them as yours do to you.”
- Articulate points of agreement: “The vast majority of Americans actually want very similar things. And because we are living in such a highly divided, partisan time, we often are not willing to admit to somebody else that we agree with them on something. Actually, the vast majority of us want good schools, we want opportunity for ourselves and our neighbors and our children. We want safe and prosperous communities. We actually have many of the same goals.”