“Where you off to in such a goshdarn hurry?” My cowboy friend teased me at a recent horse show for walking fast, head down, to nowhere I needed to be in any sort of rush. That’s the humorous side effect of having grown up riding horses and chasing cows, and then living in NYC and San Francisco for nearly a decade. Now that I’m back in the country, sometimes I have an internal urban / rural culture clash. I still walk fast for no reason, and my politics are decidedly left of where most of my cowboy friends’ fall. But I’ve learned to balance these two sides of my life with a strong respect for other people’s opinions.
It used to be difficult for me to avoid political arguments with my country friends. I was so sure they just needed more information and then they’d understand.
But having come full circle from country to urban and back again, I rarely get into arguments about politics anymore. Surprising for a former attorney, I know. I can see their side too and I’m much more understanding that their views address their pain points, just as my views address mine. We just prioritize different pain points differently.Understand that opposing views just means a different way of prioritizing pain points.Click To Tweet
That said, it took a long time for me to learn how to have a conversation with people on the other side of the political spectrum without feeling personally attacked or it getting heated. It’s hard to hear from friends and family that their opinions run counter to your core values. It can feel as though they are attacking your very being.
So how do we talk to people like that, listen, and preserve those relationships? Here are six tips to keep you on the same page, or at least in the same book.
Find Common Ground to Respect Other People’s Opinions
Remember why you started talking to these fine folks in the first place. You became friends, share childhood memories, or at least enjoy the same activities. If the conversation takes take a heated turn, steer it back to those common experiences. It’ll help both of you remember the person behind the opinion instead of just seeing a wall of disagreement.
Compliments go a long way too. It may feel odd to compliment the person you’re disagreeing with, but just saying something like I see you’ve put a lot of thought into this, or you must have read a lot about this can help bridge the gap. People get defensive when you question their core opinions. Recognizing that they too, just like you, have put a lot of time and effort into their beliefs builds a feeling of mutual respect. No one wants to talk to someone who doesn’t respect them.No one wants to talk to someone who doesn’t respect them.Click To Tweet
The natural response when someone expresses an opposing view is to batten down the hatches and defend your position. The problem is, you don’t really know what you’re defending it from if you don’t ask any questions.
The most effective way I’ve found to diffuse a possibly cantankerous argument is to get really curious about what lead my friend to those beliefs. What values and experiences underlie that position? What pain point is that opinion addressing? Once you understand that, you’re far more likely to be able to tailor your expression of your viewpoint to be most persuasive to them.
For example, if you’re talking about gun regulations with an NRA member, find out why they want to own guns, what they use them for, and how they were taught about guns. You may find that they want to go hunting just like they used to with their Grandpa who taught them to always respect guns and be very careful with them.
From there, you can talk about how you want the same thing, to make sure gun owners respect and care for the gravity of weaponry. But if you just started with “guns kill too many and should be outlawed” you won’t get very far.
So try asking questions instead of making declarations. Even if your friend says something you find outlandish, ask more questions. Why do you think that? How does that help? Eventually you’ll get to the heart of the matter where you both can really have a conversation.
Don’t Make it Personal
“Identity politics” got thrown around a lot in the last election cycle, and for good reason. The views expressed on both sides were indicative of the very identity of the people expressing them. Were you a woman who’d never gotten equal pay? A person of color afraid for your son if a cop took the wrong look at him? A blue collar white man who’d watched his livelihood dry up over the years and can’t feed his family now? Identify in these camps and there was a political candidate out there tailored just for you.
It’s impossible to totally remove yourself from the equation when talking politics. But we can remove personal insults. Talk about how your friend’s opinion affects you personally, but don’t personally assault them. You will get farther and maybe even reach some common ground if you start with, here’s why “blue lives matter” makes me feel unsafe for my child, rather than anyone who says “blue lives matter” is ignorant. (P.S. I’m not saying they are, just that they’ve been portrayed that way.)
Once we start throwing out personal insults like racist, sexist, ignorant, and the like, we’re out of the conversation zone and into the abuse zone.
Assume the Best in People
Hand in hand with not abusing people with personal insults is to assume that they came by their opinions honestly, just as you did. This means, assuming their opinion comes from a place of pain and frustration, and try to address that when you speak to them.
Yes, your friend may be prioritizing the pain of overpriced healthcare over the pain of racial inequality, and you may very well disagree with that prioritization. But that doesn’t mean she’s a heartless racist thug. That may just be the pain she’s got the most experience with.
We’ll get much farther in having conversations together about these issues if we acknowledge that pain and then try to explain why we prioritize another issue over and above that one.
Don’t Try to Win
What is the purpose of this conversation for you? Do you want to be heard and share some common ground, or do you want to be “right”? If you want to be right, join a debate club or go talk to your husband.
If you want to find common ground, though, don’t try to win the argument. Because arguing is inherently losing. Your goal is to help them see your side, and you won’t get that done by Interrupting, speaking loudly, or dismissing their opinions. The trick to being heard is to listen.If you want to be right, go talk to your husband. If you want to find common ground, don’t argue.Click To Tweet
Avoid the Stage
Ever been at a party and heard a loud cantankerous argument about politics? Ever hear anyone back down from that argument? Not usually, right? That’s because they’re on stage. If there’s an audience, people are far more likely to get entrenched in their positions, feel personally attacked by differing opinions, and even make more outlandish statements than they actually believe for entertainment’s sake.
If you want to have a real, authentic exchange about high tension issues, then an intimate setting is a better bet. No one else should be listening. Just speak quietly and honestly about your beliefs, and listen to theirs. Hear how much you both have in common and go from there.
In the last election cycle, I heard a lot of derisive things about both sides of my life, the country folk didn’t understand urban values, and vice versa. But having lived half of my life country and half urban, I know there is so much common ground to be found between the two. If we can just talk to each other kindly, and listen deeply, we can avoid some of the pain we had last year.
I also like to remember that diversity is a good thing that I value highly. And that includes diversity of opinion and values. I don’t want everyone to think as I do. Someone needs to watch out for the farmers and the ranchers. I want that way of life to continue. People also need to feel safe in this country regardless of the color of their skin.
We all have to watch out for each other here. The way to do that is to understand what the other side is most afraid of and set that fear at ease. So let’s talk to each other and respect other people’s opinions.
Thanks for reading, Thrivers! As always, please pin, email and share this article if you found it helpful.
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