The election has been heating up for months now. There have been political debates, attacks, and name-calling, and we’re not even talking about those from the candidates themselves. No, these arguments happen anywhere from family gatherings to offices to bars. For some reason, when politics are involved, the best of friends can become mortal enemies and the most reasonable of people turn into party members blinded by rage.
Enough is enough. Your Facebook updates and lunchroom rants aren’t changing anyone’s mind. Instead, try these tips for having a civil political discussion, one that won’t raise your blood pressure and can engage even those who don’t like talking politics.
The biggest part about having a productive political debate is to go into it with an open mind. You don’t have to agree with everything the other person says (and you probably won’t), but hearing their reasoning can give you a fresh perspective and will make them more open to what you have to say. Avoid interrupting, eye-rolling, and immediately thinking of how you can use their argument against them. Really listening sets the scene for a good debate where you can respond to their points without anyone getting angry.
Concede some points
If you listen, we’re betting your opponent is going to make at least a few points that are well-reasoned. Tell them that! You don’t have to agree with their opinion, but if they’ve explained clearly why they believe something, let them know you understand their reasoning. You can say something like “I can see that,” “That’s a good point,” or “That makes sense,” without giving up on your point of view on the subject. You can accept their point and then tell them why you feel differently on the subject.
Don’t raise your voice, call names, or make generalizations
Once you do any of these things, you’ve lost the chance for a civil debate. Shouting, name-calling, and sweeping generalizations lead to childish arguments and show that you’re not interested in hearing any view but your own.
Even if your political beliefs are set in stone, it’s essential to educate yourself on all the issues that matter to you and to take a look at media from both sides of the political spectrum. You’ll at least see what arguments the other side is using and – who knows? – you might find you’re not as decided about everything as you thought.
Besides the websites with obvious left- or right-wing biases that are good to read to get the full picture (Drudge Report, MoveOn.org, etc.), there are some bi-partisan sites that can help you buff up on the issues and the candidates’ stances. Project Vote Smart allows you to sort through politicians’ biographies, voting records, positions on specific issues, public statements, and more. Beyond seeing what your candidate and the other candidates (yep, there are more than two!) believe and have done in the past, you can also look strictly at the issues or even ballot measures in your state. ProCon.org gives you the pros and cons on each issue that should be considered in this election; FlackCheck.org gives you non-partisan fact-checking; and The New York Times provides a number of resources for learning about the election and its candidates.
If you want information on the go, try one of the following apps:
- Ad Hawk: Identifies political ads and tells you who is behind them.
- PollTracker : Gives you the latest poll numbers for the race.
- NBC Politics: Keeps you updated on the latest campaign and candidate news.
- Stitcher Election Center: Allows you to listen to talk radio, podcasts, and other audio from candidates and commentators from a variety of sources.
Walk away without winning
Ideally, when you walk away from a good political discussion, you’ll have found some common ground or at least taken away a new understanding of the views of the other side. Nobody should win, so everybody wins. If your goal is to crush and embarrass the other person, your conversation will probably end in anger. You should also be prepared to walk away without getting your point across if the other person is escalating the discussion and it’s turning into a heated, shouting match. Neither of you will get anywhere, so simply excuse yourself from the discussion and wait to try again with another participant who’s willing to talk coolly.