Do you wish your political disagreements looked a little more like this:

A man offers to shake hands with his friend, who instead gives him a hug.

...and a little less like this?

Woman angrily says

Political disagreements with friends or family members can get heated, so having a plan to de-escalate these tough conversations will help you and your sparring partner steer the conversation in a healthier direction.

Have A Goal

Ask yourself one big question: what's my goal in this conversation?

Woman shakes her head and says

Identifying your intentions will help you be strategic about where you spend your energy .

Recognize what is (and isn’t) in your control to change. Your goal should be something you can actually achieve without escalating the conflict further.

Examples of effective goals for the conversation:

  • Finding common ground

  • Understanding different opinions

  • Exchanging new ideas and perspectives

  • Identifying shared values

If you’re not sure what your goal is, it might be a good idea to step back and decide if this a conversation worth having right now.

Man with a sign that reads:

Control Yourself

It can be tempting to respond to anger with more anger. It’s normal to feel an intense response when our beliefs are being challenged, but it might add more fuel to the fire.

Man saying:

Body Language & Voice

Pay attention to how your emotions feel in your body. Project open, non-threatening body language by keeping your arms loose and uncrossed, and use a soft tone of voice.

Woman saying

If You Lashed Out

Take responsibility and apologize for your part in escalating the conflict. Don't try to justify your anger. Walk away if the conversation is too heated to stay in control.

Quiz

You’re having coffee with your friend Suni, who tells you she's volunteering for a local mayoral campaign. This candidate for mayor has a policy proposal you think is bad for the city. Which of these would NOT be an effective goal for your discussion?

Understand why she likes that candidate

Convince Suni to vote for someone else

Find issues you both agree on

Learn why Suni is motivated to volunteer

Listen Actively

In a heated discussion, don't get distracted preparing a hard-hitting response in your head! Instead, practice the art of active listening and give the other person your undivided attention.

Man saying

When it’s your turn to speak, repeat back what you’ve just heard so the other person can clarify . This helps limit misunderstandings that can make a disagreement worse.

Ask Questions

Now that you’re listening attentively, start asking questions! Being curious moves things away from a debate into a dialogue.

Dancers in the movie Grease singing

You can also use tentative words to signal openness and curiosity, such as:

  • I wonder if...

  • Maybe/perhaps...

  • It sounds like...

  • It seems as though...

Cartoon character placing a finger over another character's lips, shushing them. Text says

Try to notice your own “binary thinking” (where there are only 2 options: yes/no, good/bad, etc.). Explore their perspective without passing judgement.

Quiz

Alex tells you: “I won’t vote for anyone who plans to raise taxes. They already take too much of my money!” Choose the response that shows active listening and using tentative words.

I think taxes should be increased.

People like you have too much money!

Actually, you wouldn't pay much more.

It sounds like taxes mean a lot to you.

Take Action

Man saying

There’s a few things you can do to be prepared the next time you find yourself in a political disagreement:

License:

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This Byte has been authored by

MV

Megan Van Massenhoven

Youth Programs Manager