The political climate right now is tense… to say the very least. That mixed with the fact that everyone is currently living through some level of trauma at the moment can lead to more heated conversations than usual.
Like many of you, there are plenty of people in my life who don’t share the same political views as I do. I’ve seen people in my life destroy their relationships over differing political opinions. And while sometimes, in extreme cases, this is probably for the best, when a relationship is important to you, there are ways to discuss polarizing topics that are healthy and respectful.
I posted a survey on Instagram Stories yesterday asking how you guys are handling tough conversations these days and I can’t tell you how many times the answer was that someone wasn’t talking to their friend, parent, sibling, or cousin right now. That absolutely broke my heart.
On the flip side, a lot of you have been able to work through different viewpoints and I included some helpful and hopeful quotes below so that we can all learn from each other.
But first, here is how I’m handling difficult conversations with someone important to me that sees the world from a very different lens:
First of all, don’t do it over text
Or DM or Facebook messenger or anywhere online. Tough conversations should be had in a way that you can hear and interpret tone. Obviously in person isn’t possible right now so a phone call or Facetime is the next best thing.
Listen. And stop trying to change their mind.
In the kind of conversations, I’m talking about, no one’s mind is going to be changed anytime soon so instead of trying to convince the person that you’re right, try to focus on explaining where you’re coming from and the reasoning behind your thinking. As they’re explaining their reasoning, don’t interrupt with why they’re wrong or with anger. Try to listen and suspend judgment for a moment. Ask questions. Practice empathy. Everyone has a reason for their beliefs and I’ve found that better understanding those reasons makes for a much more productive conversation.
I’m not saying you have to agree with them. Just listen and try to understand the reasoning behind their thoughts. Then flip the switch and have them do the same for you. Setting the stage for this kind of back and forth at the beginning of the conversation will set you up for success.
Leave judgment at the door
It’s healthy to have differing points of view. It’s healthy to share your view and learn about someone else’s. But leave judgment at the door while you do this. That takes a certain amount of restraint, but try it out.
Before COVID, a friend of mine was constantly arguing with her sister about politics. It was starting to put a wedge between them, but they were willing to fight for their relationship. So they set up some guidelines about what they can and cannot talk about with each other. If the conversation can’t be productive, don’t have it. It’s ok if certain topics are off-limits.
If you weren’t very nice, bury your pride and say sorry. It goes a long way. If you’re like me, you always expect the other person to apologize first. But be the bigger person and move the conversation forward. Hopefully, they’ll say sorry too.
Here are some quotes I pulled from my IG survey that I thought were helpful and interesting. I’d love to hear from you guys in the comments below about you’re handling this type of situation in your life.
Let’s hear from you: On social distancing
“I pointed out that I have friends with many differing views than myself and that this is what makes life interesting. While I may not agree with her, I try not to judge or disparage her and request the same respect in return. It’s a topic we stay away from now and on social media neither one of us comments on the others post regarding that topic….still friends!”
“After many many texts and a long conversation where they weren’t respecting my opinion despite my attempts to listen and be understanding of their side I decided it was time to step back. This person loves my kids and my kids love her. As long as she is willing to respect the safety boundaries I set for my family as we go forward in this new world we can be civil. Our relationship has always been tested by social and political issues in a way that leaves me feeling condescended to and scolded. It’s very hard but I had to explain those topics are things I no longer want her to bring up. I respect her opinion and know it doesn’t change her love for my family that we don’t agree – so there’s no need to push each other’s buttons. I will, however, continue to send small reminders that id like her to be extra careful as she believes she’s safe to go out because I’d hate for anything to happen to her. Just remember we love you and just want you safe.”
“I understand and accept they have different viewpoints than me. Sometimes in our conversations, I let them express their thoughts and feelings because they feel they can’t with other people. Other times I choose to change the subject in our conversations. I try to be empathetic and see it from their perspective, but I don’t let our differences affect our relationship overall.”
“We discussed how there are always multiple options in a conversation and that as people we need to step outside of our box of thought and look at the view from all perspectives. We left the conversation having our differences but knowing that we might need to start looking at things from other points than the ones we have pigeonholed ourselves into.”
“Be consistent! Same message over and over while trying to be sympathetic.”
“We were going back in forth in a DM, and I just called him. We were both interpreting the conversation differently. I think now, more than ever, controversial topics need to be discussed on the phone. There is no tone on the internet. Nothing stopping you from crossing a line.”
Let’s hear from you: On politics
“We have had arguments, but generally decided that the beauty of living in America is being ALLOWED to have different opinions. We can and should respect that. Also, because they’re my parents and I love them dearly, it’s a reminder that you can and should love those who are different from you. We are not meant to be the same!”
“We came to a mutual understanding that different things in our lives have led us to why we think the way we do and agree to not discuss it and if it comes up that our views on this don’t take away from the other great qualities of our relationship. No one agrees on everything, and no one has lived the exact life you have, but we still respect each other! Respect is everything.”
“Understanding the other’s viewpoint and remembering they are entitled to it. Not making the loved one feel bad. Really, really listening without judgment or opinion(very, very hard but I’ve had lots of practice with my deeply religious, Totalitarian father-in-law).”
“Stopped following them on social media. We don’t talk about politics together. Since I stopped following them on social media our relationship is a lot better.”
“We realize that we respect and love each other and disagreeing about certain ideas, even fundamental ones, isn’t that important. ideas can evolve and change. Our respect and love are constant.”
“Both raised very conservatively, but one of us has remained conservative/republican and the other has transitioned to more liberal/democrat. We still discuss politics, but not in-depth, and honestly, most discussions focus on the topics where we are both neutral and/or agree. It’s better for our relationship if the conversations surrounding politics remain more surface level. We agree on SO MUCH, that rehashing what we don’t agree on just doesn’t make sense or add value to an incredibly valuable relationship.”
“Honor each other’s viewpoints and don’t attack. Be honest and don’t cave in what you think, but realize you don’t have to have the same views to still work well together.”
“It has honestly put a strain on our relationship. I love my grandparents, but they have some very concerning opinions. They tease me for being a feminist and poke fun of my beliefs at family gatherings. I had to come to the realization that not everyone will see my POV, or understand the things that I am passionate about. Yet, I am going to continue to be open about my beliefs and fight for things I am passionate about social justice, women’s equality, etc. My grandparents might not value my ideas, but I am encouraging other women to take a stand! 💜 For me, it’s all about keeping things respectful and civil, even when I want to cuss my grandparents out…(haha!)”
“I surrender to agreeing to disagree and we also don’t discuss that topic – I know I’m not going to change their mind and they won’t change mine. Not worth the struggle -and we focus on other things important in the relationship.”
“We actually do talk about these things, but we know ahead of time that we disagree and that we’re not going to change the other person’s mind. Its a conversation, not an argument. I studied Gov/PoliSci/public policy/Econ in college and grad school then worked in that arena, so I appreciate that my BFF respects that my ideas are grounded in study and professional experience. She is much more empathetic than I am, and I respect that her heart and personality guide her stances on many issues.”
Love this post! One of my favorite podcasts is Pantsuit Politics, two women who have different political perspectives discussing politics in a productive way. They even wrote a book about how to have these tough conversations with family and friends! It’s called “I think you’re wrong but I’m listening”, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share in case anyone else was interested!
I’ve heard that from a few people now and I am going to read it. Sounds like it is very helpful!
Timely post. I lost my cool with my dad this weekend. I don’t regret what I said, but I probably just shouldn’t have done there.
I hope you guys are able to work it out. It’s so hard.
Ugh, so difficult. I have zero tolerance for the bigotry/ hypocrisy/Trump enabling of the Republican Party and I thank the heavens that no one in my immediate family buys into the Fox News propaganda machine. My sister’s in-laws are uneducated Trump supporters and it’s misery for her any time she’s stuck with them for any stretch of time. Not that I’d wish COVID on anyone, but I wonder that once it really spreads to rural middle America and people there start losing jobs/lives that they’ll wisen up to the incompetency in chief.
I really appreciate your advice, Julia, about leaving judgment at the door!
This post is certainly interesting and I imagine helpful to a lot of people. I personally hesitate to encourage people to burry certain topics so they can coexist/enjoy their relationship with a friend and family member when those topics relate to view points that marginalize and oppress other groups of people. I certainly believe there are certain issues that are a matter of preference and are not really about the way we value human lives. But I personally find it more helpful in my own life to separate myself from people (regardless of whether or not they are family) who subscribe to beliefs that could be harmful to others.
Relieved to see I’m not alone in struggling with some of my relationships right now because of different political views. Thank you so much for talking about this issue
You are absolutely not alone. This is an interesting read: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/04/friends-are-breaking-up-over-social-distancing/610783/
I think it helps to remember that these issues are complex and the answers are generally not black and white. Life is complicated and what makes sense for some people based on variety of factors doesn’t make sense for others. Remembering that so many things play into people’s varying perspectives can help us really think about why we believe what we do as well as understand why someone else believes something different, even if we don’t agree with them. I think this can also keep us from generalizations that put people in broad groups and can inevitably offend.
Very well said. Thank you for this.
Very well said, Salley.
I recommend the book Crucial conversations: https://www.amazon.com/Crucial-Conversations-Talking-Stakes-Second/dp/1469266822/ref=nodl_
The book is part of a corporate training program but equally applicable for tough conversations outside of the workplace.
This looks great. Thanks so much for the rec!