Have you found yourself in a political discussion lately? If not, then you’ve probably been living like a hermit – staying at home and off of social media. Such conversations are only going to increase over the next couple of months. We will probably spend more time debating over the presidential election than deliberating over our fantasy football picks.

In light of that, here are three quick tips for improving the quality of your political discourse:

Tip one: keep the conversation leaning towards what you both are “for” rather than what you are “against”.

It seems like every election there are always people who tend to favor one candidate because they so strongly dislike the other one. I understand that feeling, I’ve been there many times. However, this 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton appears to be taking that to new levels. Ask anyone why they are voting for Trump or Clinton and most likely you’re going to get some reason why they want to avoid the other candidate.

Here’s where I’m encouraging you to attempt to redirect the conversation. After the other person outlines why they are against Hillary or “the Donald”, asks something like “okay, but why do you like Clinton/Trump?”… “What is it about their policies that you favor?” Try to steer discussion away from personality and dislike and towards the political issues and beliefs that they favor.

It’s always better to move towards something that away from something. It’s always better to outline what excites you and motivates your passion rather than what drives your fear. There is so much fear this year that it might take several redirect questions to change the tone of the conversation towards the positive. Keep trying!

Tip two: remember that the conversation is not about “winning or losing” but rather about understanding the other person and their beliefs.

Cable TV political talk programs appear to have trained us into believing that political exchanges are about “beating your opponent”. They pit two people with opposing beliefs into the video arena where there is only time to make quick sound bytes. There is a lot of loud talking and very little listening.

Our personal conversations – whether in person or online – are not contests! Not everything in life is a competition. This is sometimes tough to remember, especially when your buttons get pushed by the competitive nature of the other person. When you are trying to have a reasoned dialogue and they are trying to show that they are “right” and you are “wrong”, it can be hard not to get defensive – and then right into “competing with them”. I am encouraging you not to do that.

Two of Stephen Covey’s famous “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” come into play here. First, there is “seek first to understand, then to be understood“. In other words, before you go on and on about what you believe is right, first attempt to make sure you understand the other person’s position. Ask clarifying questions. Repeat back to them their position to make sure you have it right. When you do have a decent understanding, then outline what your beliefs are. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t take the same time to understand you. Keep modeling the behavior anyway.

Stephen Covey’s other pertinent “effective habit” is to “seek win-win solutions“. In other words, you as a mature individual recognize that our interchanges with other people take our world to a better place when we can find solutions that serve the greater good of all. You are playing small when you are motivated to show how you are right and the other person wrong.

It’s okay to disagree with the other person’s beliefs – and they to disagree with yours – but a reasonable win-win solution here can be obtained when you both walk away from the conversation with a better understanding as to what the other person’s beliefs are and why they believe as they do. Your understanding can lead ultimately to our consideration of new policies and actions that address the needs of both of you. If we simply stay in “argument mode” and never truly get to a level of understanding, then we are closing ourselves off to the potential for greater possibilities and solutions.

Tip three: always recognize that your relationship with the other person is bigger and more important than this conversation.

Finally, always keep foremost in your mind that what is ultimately most important is your relationship with this other person – whether it is in person or online, whether you feel like you know them personally or they are simply some faceless person in the virtual world. This is easier to remember, I know, when you know the person offline.

We are never all going to agree with one another on every issue or on every political election. If we step back and consider it, we would realize that the variety and multitude of our various beliefs are a good thing. They serve our collective growth. In spite of what you might egotistically believe about yourself, no one person has all the best ideas or the best solutions. Higher possibilities always emerge from the organic entanglement of our collective thoughts and notions about the world.

Neither the liberals nor the conservatives, the Democrats nor the Republicans, nor any other two opposing groups hold a monopoly on the best options for every situation. Identifying ourselves exclusively with one clan can lead us into disliking and potentially demonizing other clans with opposing viewpoints. This does not serve us!

Every person out there on the planet has their own path, their own experiences, their own beliefs. There are ways in which they differ from you, but there are more ways in which you are alike. You all desire to have a basic standard of living met, to have love and relationships, to feel good about yourself, to be able to thrive during this lifetime by feeling safe and secure and living your dreams. The details may differ but the framework of desires is the same.

Our calling is not to highlight our differences with each other, but rather to recognize and honor those differences. Our calling is not to defeat each other, but rather to support one another in living the best and highest life possible. Our calling is not to retreat into fear and hatred of the other, but rather to boldly expand into greater levels of loving one another. This can only be done when we remember that our relationships with one another are primary – that they are tender seeds we must nourish at every chance.

Good luck in your conversations this political season! Remember, you can make a difference with every choice you make.

Mark Gilbert


Check out more of Mark Gilbert’s writings, through his books on Amazon! Also, be sure to follow Conscious Bridge on Twitter and Facebook!

Photo credit: Jonathan Harford via Foter.com / CC BY-NC