How to have constructive conversations about political issues with people who have different perspectives.
The key concepts:
  • Have a pleasant conversation.
  • Find commonality.
  • Ask, don't tell.
  • Listen to learn.
  • Stories and ideas, not facts.
Pleasant conversation: This is not about winning or even about exchanging information. It is about sharing perspectives in respectful way. Aim for a pleasant conversation where the other person feels heard and understood. Respect does not require agreement.
Find commonality. Don't think of the other person as an opponent or enemy. Instead, think of them as a fellow community member who shares some underlying principles, values or goals, but has a different idea about how to make our society work. Find those shared areas and make sure to talk about them.
Ask, don't tell. The goal of asking is to understand WHY the other person believes something, not just WHAT they believe. For example, ask what experiences have led the other person to their position. Ask follow-up questions.  Check to see if you understand by asking if you have it right. The goal is to be able to explain their position so well it surprises them. Say: "I want to be sure I understand. I think you are saying XYZ (said fairly). Do I have it right?"
Listen to learn. Don't just pause while they are talking to compose your next argument. Make it clear that you are listening with an open mind in order to understand. Ask
Stories and ideas, not facts.  Facts do not change minds or attitudes.  Stories (and especially personal stories) change minds and attitudes.
Do's and Don'ts:
  • Do be respectful.
  • Do smile, nod, look interested.
  • Do be willing to say:  "Thank you. It's been helpful for me to have this conversation. I think I better understand why we have different feelings about this."
  • Do use 'we' and 'us' rather than 'I' or 'you' or 'them'
  • Do remember that political positions are basically beliefs and very personal, so challenging a position is a form of challenging someone's core believes. This is something almost everyone finds threatening.
  • Do ask them for a story or anecdote or experience to explain what they mean.
  • Do offer a story or anecdote or experience to explain what you mean.
  • Don't criticize or negate or deny their story or claim that your story is more valid than theirs.
  • Don't push a conversation past where it is friendly.
  • Don't use inflammatory words.
  • Don't yell or threaten or accuse or name call.
  • Don't say things like "I can't believe anyone would..." or "I can't stand..." or "That's wrong."


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