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How to talk politics with people who think differently than you

How to talk politics with people who think differently than you

So hey, people! In case you didn’t know (if you’ve been living under a rock; or built a log cabin in the middle of the wilderness and decided to leave society forever, for good, good bye!), there’s an election coming up in a month. As partisanship grows in our country, it’s likely that there are people in your immediate family or inner circle who have differing opinions than your own and that leads to some potentially (definitely) emotionally charged interactions or conversations.

While I don’t have all the answers, there are a few things you can do to help you talk to people who think differently than you.

Cardinal rule #1: It’s not that you shouldn’t change people, it’s that you can’t

This is the cardinal rule when it comes to talking with people who think (vote) differently than you. It’s not that you shouldn’t change people, it’s that you can’t. You can’t change people and it’s hard to change their minds. When you let go of the idea that I CAN CHANGE YOU!!!, you free yourself from that burden. I repeat: you cannot change people. People only can change themselves. So what do you instead?

Ask genuine questions and then listen

The key to interacting with people who think differently from you is to listen. (fun fact: “silent” and “listen” both contain the same letters; thanks, Oprah.) Be curious about another person’s perspective and experience. Ask things like, “What are you most concerned about for the upcoming election?” Or, “What issues are you hoping will be addressed by the person you’re voting for?” Be genuinely curious, emphasis on “genuinely.” If you’re asking those questions to have a GOTCHA moment, that’s defeating the purpose. Then really listen to their answer. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Stick to “I” statements

We LOVE assertiveness and the key to assertiveness training is using “I” statements. Notice how different these two statements feel: “I worry about climate change because of the recent ecological disasters in the United States and around the globe” versus “You don’t care about climate change.” “I” statements keep the ball in your court and gives you a change to explain your feelings; “you” statements are more accusatory and can put people on the defense.

Focus on the issues

When you’re talking politics with a family member or friend, remember to stick to the issues and (back to the above tip), ask questions and listen. This is a research-backed assertion. According to an article from The Atlantic, research has found that people aren’t really that moved by having facts lobbed at their faces, but are more moved by interactions with other people, especially when the conversation focuses on the issues rather than party.

Accept what you can/can’t change but that doesn’t mean you have to like it

This is the tricky one and goes back to cardinal rule #1. You ultimately do not have control over what other people think and you can’t magically change people’s minds. This requires acceptance. It doesn’t mean you have to like what other people think; you can think someone’s beliefs are very problematic. But you have to accept that you cannot change a person’s mind. The harder you try, the more you dig in, the more a person resists.

Have you registered to vote? Go to to register! 

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