People shouting with megaphones When someone comes at us using insults or an aggressive approach, we close off and become defensive.
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Dreading that virtual reunion with family or friends in case politics rears its argumentative, polarizing head? Here’s how to safely speak your mind in 5 simple steps.

Because it can be so polarizing and even explosive, politics is one of those subjects we’re told not to discuss in polite company. Yet now more than ever, as the general election in November approaches, it is important to know what those on the other side of the aisle think. And not necessarily to change their minds, but to gain a better understanding of the issues. Here’s how to do it without ruining friendships or having epic verbal fights with family members.

1. Start with Curiosity

If you begin by trying to prove the other person wrong, or by “educating” them on the subject, guess what will happen? Well, what usually happens when someone comes at us using these aggressive approaches: we close off and become defensive. So pretend you’re an anthropologist, studying a different culture, and start by finding out the other person’s point of view. Ask them to explain and expand on their argument, so that you really understand why they think this way.

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2. Keep an Open Mind

Now that you’re listening, do it with an open mind. Research shows that most people have a type of “belief bias”, wherein they are more likely to accept an idea if it matches their belief system, so they discount a whole other world of information.

Is there any truth to the other person’s argument? Look up the facts. Analyze them with impartiality (and don’t worry, you’re doing this in the privacy of your mind). Weigh the pros and cons. To allow new information to come in can only enrich you; it lets you form better, more rounded opinions and, ultimately, make better choices. Remember, information is not the enemy; ignorance is the foe.

3. Really Listen

Let the other person express him or herself without constantly interrupting them or waiting impatiently for them to finish before jumping in to make your point. If this proves too difficult, use the old reliable trick of “whoever is holding the pen/stick/stress ball (any object will do) can talk uninterruptedly until they’ve made their point. This is a good time to apply the Golden Rule: Listen as you would like the other person to listen to you.

4. Show Respect

Ask yourself: would you be willing to listen, let alone change your mind, for someone who is insulting you, calling you names or dismissing your arguments with sarcasm? You will never change another’s mind using this toxic approach.

Better yet: do not try to change their mind. View this is an exchange of ideas and information. Remember: just like you, most people are doing the best they can with the information they have. They truly believe that their candidate will make things better. When you see people with whom you disagree as people who are trying to achieve a positive result, you can empathize with their intention, even when you disagree with their position.

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5. Agree to Disagree

You will probably not reach an agreement. And that’s OK. The ideas expressed by both sides will percolate in your heads for some time, and likely some adjustments will be made by both parties. At the very least, you’ll have a growing respect for each other, because you will have made your relationship deeper and more honest. So it’s important to respectfully agree to disagree. The key is to put people first. Make sure that they know you value them, and your relationship with them, whether you agree with them or not. 

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