Navigating hard conversations surrounding sensitive topics like politics, racism, religion, gun control, or abortion can cause strain on any relationship, whether it be with friends or acquaintances, co-workers, family or even a spouse. Knowing or discovering that you have different ideologies or beliefs than those you care about can be uncomfortable, especially if you are in conversation about those topics.
According to the 2017 Stress in America Survey, 27 percent of adults strongly or somewhat agree that the political climate has caused strain between themselves and their family members. It’s important to have healthy conversations, but also to be mindful of when the discussion escalates and becomes unproductive.
Here are some helpful tips to guide political conversation in a more positive direction:
Find areas where you agree.
You may disagree with someone but instead of strongly reacting, actively listen to the other person about what is important to them. For example, you might have different ideas about gun control but underneath you share the same concern for keeping your kids safe and healthy. You may find that by discussing shared viewpoints, areas of disagreement will feel less intense and your stress may decrease.
Be open and kind.
When having conversations, avoid polarizing language and personal attacks. Remember with whom you are having the conversation. It may be a family member or someone important to you. Communicate effectively. Avoid having conversations on sensitive topics early in the morning or right before an important event. Try to be mindful of your words and tone and not let the conversation become hostile or combative, as that could have potential to negatively affect the relationship in the future.
Keep calm when tensions rise.
Preparing for how you might react in advance of a conversation will increase your self-awareness and may give you more options if you want to de-escalate tension. If you find yourself quick to react in a heated conversation, it may benefit you to take a step back and remind yourself to be calm. Try taking deep breaths when you find yourself getting worked upor politely change the topic of conversation. Only you can control your emotions and being aware of them will help you to lessen tension with others.
Have conversation goals.
Understanding your goals when it comes to communicating with others, may be helpful to having productive conversations. Whether the conversation is on a sensitive topic, such as healthcare, or not, it’s important to determine what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Is it that you want to change the person’s mind or to simply hear and better understand their point of view? Establishing easy attainable goals, when communicating with others will help to ease tension in a conversation.
Accept that you may not change the other person’s mind.
When in conversation, you may notice that the other person may not agree with your opinions or statements. Having conversations, specifically on sensitive topics, will not always be easy going. Recognize that you may not be able to change their viewpoints. Use the conversation as an opportunity to share views, not to convince anyone that your view is best.
Disagreeing with someone you care about is OK.
It is important to remember that you are not always going to agree with everyone. It is ok to agree to disagree. Your personal opinions and beliefs make you unique. It might be hard to accept that a loved one or friend may have opposing ideologies than you, but understanding their viewpoints will help contribute to healthy relationships.
Know when to end the conversation.
If the conversation has not come to a resolution, you may want to find an appropriate time to end the discussion peacefully. It may be that you change the topic of conversation or suggest another activity, but reinforce maintaining the relationship you have with the other person. Even though there wasn’t an agreement, continue to participate in activities you enjoy together.
If you are concerned about potentially difficult conversations at family gatherings, such as during the holidays, remember these events are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what you and your family have in common. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.
Check the APA Psychology Help Center for additional information about relationships, managing stress and how to talk to kids about difficult subjects.
This article was reprinted with permission by the American Psychological Association (APA).