How to Talk Politics with People Who Are Different From You

Nov 7, 2022

It’s a big election year for Minnesota. There were many offices on the ballot this month, including the governor and each of Minnesota’s U.S. House seats. Regardless of your political beliefs, this topic can be a point of tension when conversing with family members, friends, or coworkers who don’t have the same views you do.

Warren Duncan, one of our Training Institute instructors, weighed in on some ways you can discuss the November 8th results in a way that respects the mental health and dignity of everyone involved in the conversation.

  • Ask yourself: what makes you want to engage? What outcome are you hoping for? Rarely will you convince someone to change their mind; however, they may still be curious to hear how you see the issue. It’s important to discern your reasoning around engaging because it helps you decide how much you want to engage and helps avoid reacting emotionally in the situation. 
  • What do you think about the issue? Notice and name your initial reactions. What assumptions, biases, or habitual reactions are you experiencing? Ask yourself if you have any preconceived notions about the person you are engaging with.
  • When you engage in conversation, listen to their side first, using communication tools like open-ended questions and paraphrasing what you think they are saying. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure I agree with you, but I would like to hear more about how you see the issue.”
  • Listen carefully: can you hear the meaning beyond their words and dig a little deeper to identify any values or needs they have? What overlaps with your own values and needs?
  • Once you understand their perspective, share with them how you see it. Highlight the values of theirs that overlap with your own view.
  • Ask them what they heard. It could sound like, “I just said a lot, and I am not sure I said it very concisely. Would you tell me what you heard?” Listen to what they say and identify any misunderstandings.

Navigating political conversations can be emotional and frustrating, especially when engaging with people we love who don’t fully share our beliefs. Much like the infamous duck/rabbit optical illusion, we all see the world differently based on our personal life experiences. Approaching emotionally charged conversations with empathy, respect, and patience can ease the tension this election season.