It’s inevitable: At one point or another during an election year, people will reach that point of exasperation when talking to someone about the candidates. It might be at a family reunion or on Facebook. It could even be in the parking lot of a grocery store. Insults will fly. You’ll be shocked by the utter unwillingness of the other person to see reason. And you’ll be tempted to say that you will never talk about politics again
1. Find common ground: Start conversations with what you have in common. Without this step, all you are doing is having a debate. Believe it or not, even people on polar opposites of the political spectrum can find things in common: We all love our families, want our communities to be safe and healthy, we want opportunities for the next generation, etc. That’s a good starting point for discussion.
2. Connect the dots: An effective conversation starts with agreement about an issue (i.e., yes, international trade must be fair to American workers) and then connects the dots to why you concluded you support a certain position or candidate. Stating your conclusion is not the same as telling someone how she should conclude. The back and forth about why we each came to our conclusions is the meat of a good political discussion
3. When it gets hot, de-escalate: Many of us get passionate and spirited about our beliefs, but emotionally- charged dialogue can go side-ways very quickly. Anger can make people feel backed into a corner. Nothing good comes from pursuing a conversation in this state so step back to take the heat out of the talk. A simple way to de-escalate is to acknowledge how the other person is feeling – show empathy authentically (“I get that you are very passionate about this issue.”)
4. People want to draw their own conclusions: Telling someone who to vote for rarely works, but conversations where we talk about facts and experiences can move people to draw new conclusions.
5. Don't be a know-it-all: Whether you are a political junkie or a first-time voter, each person’s vote counts the same. Being armed with statistics and policy positions of candidates can be overpowering. If your goal is to persuade someone, flooding them with data can just turn off interest.
6. Beware of "confirmation bias:" We all are susceptible to it. It’s the tendency to interpret information as confirming our own beliefs. For example, if someone is passionate about candidate X, he might view negative information about that candidate as being an unfair attack. As a result, “facts” are discounted over beliefs and no matter how well researched your information, if it doesn’t align with the core beliefs of someone, he will reject it. Because of this, it is vital that conversations start with common ground – points of agreement that can be built upon.
7. Remember: This isn’t a conversation about politics. It’s a talk about our communities. Keeping that in mind, along with patience, will go a long way towards building the future we all want.
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