I think we can all agree there is no shortage of discussion this election year, no matter what side of the aisle you sit. Even if you’re not following the daily news updates, you’re probably watching humorous political clips your friends sent you from Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live. There’s something new to discuss every day, and it’s only going to increase through November.
This is the beauty of our great American political system and the freedom of opinion it affords us. Not to mention, it’s just so much darn fun to discuss! And we should! But we must have the ability to have a difference of opinion, discuss with civility and respect, and still part in good company. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
With that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when talking politics:
· “Enter these conversations prepared to listen.” – Daniel Post Senning
If you listen to the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast by The Emily Post Institute on NPR radio (and if you don’t, I think you’d love it), Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning recently discussed this controversial topic. I love what they said about being prepared to just be a listener too. Your opinions to the conversation are valuable and valid, but know that conversely you need to be aware of how much of the conversation you are taking up. Have a true conversation, which means ensuring it is two-sided by taking time to just listen. It shows such respect and consideration when you give others room and time to get their point across. When you grant that respect to the others in the discussion, you may be surprised how responsive and respectful they are, in turn, when you are speaking.
· Politics at the Table
Among friends, it can be almost too much to resist talking about. I am guilty of this. However, the best rule of thumb etiquette-wise is just to avoid discussing these topics around the dinner table. This is, by far, the safest approach and least possible scenario to accidentally (or purposefully) offend. You don’t want someone feeling uncomfortable and possibly even trapped because good manners prevent them from leaving the dinner table. If you choose to engage in a conversation of this nature, make sure you know your audience around the table and keep your comments within the bounds of consideration and respect for others. Since most of us offend others completely unintentionally, it’s best just to follow the rule of thumb. This doesn’t make you boring. It makes you polite.
· Pause for thought, and take a breath before you respond
This is especially true if someone has just said something that might be contrary to your viewpoint or upsetting to you. You don’t need to respond immediately, or even at all if you feel it can’t be done with grace. Take a moment to pause, gather your thoughts, and take the conversation in a positive direction. Or, change the conversation topic altogether.
· Manage your reaction – be careful of your tone
If the conversation is taking a turn from sharing viewpoints to making you feel on the defensive, remember the goal of the conversation is an exchange of opinions in a civil manner. If you feel yourself growing upset or getting louder with your words, it’s time to change the conversation. It’s important to maintain mutual respect, and it’s hard to do that if either party takes a tone that might be construed as snarky or condescending. If you’re not quite sure how to respond, you can use phrases such as, “That’s very insightful, thanks sharing your viewpoints with me.” “Isn’t it great that we can discuss like this, even though we might somewhat differ.” Or, “Isn’t it great that we don’t have to agree, but can still discuss freely like this in our country? Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.”
· Social media posting
A final note on political conversations – it can very easily feel more comfortable and less direct to post a political opinion on your social media site of choice. But, it’s incredibly important to remember you are still having a conversation. In fact, you’re creating a very loud conversation, even if it’s not one you are having face-to-face. Remember that your online comments can be carried far and wide to a large audience, and so can the reactions to it. Not to mention that anything posted online can live forever. Anything you would not be willing to say in a civil face-to-face discussion, should not be posted.