Friends, family members, clients, even the cashier at the grocery store, have said to me, “I can't talk about politics without getting into a fight.”
Many people want to avoid conflict, so they just keep the frustration inside.
But some of us feel like there is too much at stake to keep quiet. If now is not the time to speak up, when would be?
I'm here to tell you that yes, you can talk about politics. And no, it doesn't have to lead to a fight.
But you HAVE to do it differently.
If you want to be part of the solution and stop engaging in the division, buckle up, leave your ego at the door, and take a ride through three unexpected steps that can get you where you want to go.
Step 1: Check yourself
Don't go into a political conversation with your own agenda of proving a point. You will most certainly end up in a fight.
If you start with the mission to prove your point, the end result will be each person digging their heals more firmly in their own position.
You will not change another person's perspective without being willing and open to having your perspective influenced as well.
That's step one: check yourself that you aren't on a mission to convince the other person of the error of their ways and expect them to bow down and say, “Thank you for enlightening me!”
Go into it with another mission–to gain connection.
Step 2: Cultivating connection
All influence happens from a place of connection.
Let's stop right there. I really mean this.
You cannot influence if you are not connected. You cannot connect if you do not, in your heart, truly and actually see the full, equal humanity of the other person.
Whomever you are speaking to is a full-fledged human and deserved to be treated as such.
There are no such people as liberals, conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. These are labels that are shorthand for political views we might have. They do not capture the essence of our humanity.
Please stop making sweeping generalizations using these categories. It serves to de-humanize us. It leads to breakdown in connection on a personal and national level.
Instead, be more aware when you engage with people. These are real people with real feelings.
Don't break people down.
Seek to understand.
True influencers know that we don't impact other people by shoving our agendas onto them.
Influence is about listening and being influenced ourselves. It's also about helping others be more aware about their own views.
That's right. You influence by generously creating a situation where others become more thoughtful about their perspective. (Lightbulb!)
Here are 3 easy ways to do this:
1. Use validation.
Validation is not agreeing, it's simply showing that you can see another's perspective.
For example, "I can see that you are really upset about this issue." Or "I notice that you are passionate about what you are saying here."
2. Be curious.
Ask a question to better understand what the person means or why they think they way they do. For example, "Help me understand how you have come to this conclusion." Or "Tell me more how you are thinking about this issue."
3. Open it up.
The best way influence is not to debate, but to ask questions that allow people to express the nuance in their views. Our questions can shine a light on areas of gray, overlap and commonality. You can do that by asking them to consider other viewpoints (not by telling them yours).
You might say, "Have you considered this other view that's different from yours? Is there any part that you think has merit? Or are you in complete opposition?"
Or you might say, "Sometimes I hear about this concern related to your viewpoint. Do you share in that concern at all? Why or why not?"
Step 3: Expressing your thoughts
Often our conversations need to stop after Steps 1 and 2. Remember, there is no "winning," there is only connecting.
I also believe it's incredibly powerful to give people a little time and space to air out their thoughts to an audience. That's how better, more complex opinions are formed. That's enough of a contribution, even if it doesn't satisfy ego.
And the truth is, most of the time, you won't be sufficiently connected to the other person after one, two, or even three conversations to move on to Step 3.
Step 3 is about offering your perspective to someone who is now open enough to receive it.
Here are some ways that you can offer up in a way that it will be best received.
Ask for permission.
One sure-fire way to make sure people are listening is to get their consent.
Ask, "I have some thoughts on this, are you interested in hearing them?" If you have built a connection and have shown yourself to be open and receptive, this is when you will get a "yes."
Only then will you be able to share your thoughts without the other person being completely defensive.
Being influential means that you are able to see that you are not better, not right, not more special than other people.
Talk about your perspective but do it in such a way that others can see that you are coming from a place of true humility, that you have a perspective you are offering up with the intention of sharing and connecting, not dominating and one-upping.
This is the only way our perspectives will be received with some degree of trust and openness.
Start by explaining your values
Even if people will disagree with your perspective or conclusion, they generally will respect your values. If you want someone to understand your view, start by sharing what values inform your perspective.
Say something like, "I believe that all children deserve a basic level of stability, therefore I support....." or "I believe that governments have the same responsibility as families and households to balance their budgets and make tough choices about spending therefore I support...."
Being part of a healthier, more functional conversation about politics takes a lot of patience, emotional-regulation, and digging real deep. If you practice as you feel ready, you will get better and better.
I believe that it also leads to positive feelings about ourselves. What's more liberating and confidence-boosting than knowing you can have tough conversations with people who disagree with you?
Hannah Curtis is a communication coach who teaches purpose-driven people how to use their words with confidence and their power for positive change. Join her for a 12-week communication coaching program, Deep Dive, and have a bigger impact with effective, confident communication.