How to Have Productive Political Conversations
In the political world, pretty much everyone has an opinion. Schools of thought on most social issues, for example, generally fall under two main categories; but underneath these categories, thought processes can be highly varied. Many people also have the desire to express the ideas that they have on the right way to handle each issue. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to have a successful conversatIon about issues that matter to them. This is especially true when two people who disagree with one another, try to talk about them online. With more and more people expressing themselves on social media, it can be distressing to both individuals involved when the discussion dissolves into fighting, and the topic cannot be moved forward any further. In this guide, I will share helpful tips on how to properly speak to someone you may disagree with so that the conversation stays productive and positive. I will also share ideas on how to move a conversation forward that is stuck, and when to just run!
Realistic Expectations and Positive Goals
Before you begin, you must have realistic expectations and positive goals. Are you simply planning to confront this person because what they said made you angry? Anger is a normal response to things that we find upsetting, but it has no place in a political discussion. The topics involved in the political realm are too easily able to provoke people into all kinds of ugly behavior.
Are you simply trying to have a "gotchya" moment? If your intention is to simply prove the person you disagree with wrong, you may be disappointed when the other person becomes angry at you. You may also discover that their view point has been developed by a much more thorough evaluation of the subject than you gave them credit for.
When discussing topics and ideas with people you disagree with, it is wise to decide, and even agree, beforehand that in the end you may walk away from the conversation still disagreeing with one another. It is not always possible to convince someone to change their point-of-view, even if the information you present is well thought out and very thorough. You may have to decide to agree to disagree.
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Respect is Key
Before begining the conversation, it is incredibly important to consider the person you are going to be engaging with. I mean really consider them. Acknowledge that they are a human being, and as valuable as you are. Think about the fact that, while you may disagree with this individual on this subject, they are still a living, breathing person with thoughts and feelings. Remember that you are only discussing ideas, and that even though their ideas are different than yours, that does not entitle you to be rude to them. Respect them in the same manner that you would like to be respected. Commit beforehand not to resort to ad hominem attacks.
Once you have decided that you would like to engage in respectful discourse, it is essential to spend some time considering the other person's view point. Where are they coming from? Why do they have the perspective that they do?
This is important if you want to come up with thoughtful ways of engaging them. If you only try to present your opinion without showing an understanding of their's, it is highly unlikely that they will care to listen to anything you have to say. However, if you do take this considerate approach, you will demonstrate that you care about them as a person. You will show them that how they feel matters to you, even though you still disagree with them. You will be well on your way to a fruitful discussion.
Avoid Logical Fallacies
Attacking the person instead of the arguement.
Stating a belief is true because it cannot be proven untrue.
Begging the Question
When a person's question assumed a conclusion that may be false.
Drawing a similarity between two things that does not exist.
You are now ready to initiate the conversation. Begin by showing them that you plan on giving them the respect you have committed to, but that you would like to discuss the matter with them. Think carefully about what you want to say, and how you are going to say it. It is very easy to turn people away quickly with snide comments, and the use of sarcasm. In fact, avoid sarcasm at all costs.
It is also important to stick to the topic, and relate to what the person was trying to convey with their message. If you start out by throwing some off-the-wall sub-points at them, they will likely not want to continue the conversation. They may even think that you don't have any idea what you are talking about. So attempt to address what they said in as specific a manner as possible. Make sure that you support your view point with validating material. You can use links to articles from reliable sources, or share quotes from books that you have read. Be sure to always site your source, and give other people credit where it is due them.
Once They Respond
After you have initiated the conversation (or sometimes, if someone has initiated the conversation with you), you will likely be able to tell a lot about whether the conversation will be positive from the other person's first response. Here are some things to consider about the way that they have replied:
- Did they express the same level of respect for you as you did for them?
- Do the words they chose to respond with convey extreme anger that perhaps cannot be overcome?
- Were they snarky and rude?
- Were they kind and thougtful, even though they clearly disagree?
By answering these questions, you can gauge how the rest of the conversation might go. This will help you decide whether or not to continue.
Sometimes people find themselves getting frustrated because they feel like the other person doesn't understand what they are saying. Or maybe they are upset because the other person rejects their premise as invalid, and refuses to accept what they are saying is true. When this happens, people sometimes begin to repeat themselves. They try showing more proof that what they are saying is true. When this happens, conversations tend to quit moving forward. It is easy for it to dissolve into fighting at this point; so watch out for this pitfall, and try to bring in new information and new points for the discussion to address.
If that does not work, consider pointing out that they are simply repeating themselves, and that you would like to move on directly. If the person is unwilling to move forward (or, if you are the one unwilling to move forward) it may be time to agree to disagree, and end the conversation here.
Not Everyone Will Want to Talk
Be aware that even if you confront someone in a respectful manner, and attempt to engage them thoughtfully, not everyone is going to want to have the same kind of discussion with you. There are some subjects that affect people on a very emotional level, and because of that they are incapable of talking about them. This is especially true of people who disagree with them. It is also good to recognize that it is hard to have your opinions evaluated and questioned. Many people are not not comfortable with this type of criticism. Do not try to force them to converse with you if that becomes clear. Simply walking away is the most respectful course of action in this case.
Also, consider simply running from the conversation if the other person's only intent is to attack you personally. Name calling is the prime indicator of this. If they only want to show you "how dumb" you are, then walk away while you are ahead. Also, do not take it personally, and remember that this type of interaction reflects a problem with them and not with you. Unless, of course, you choose to do this too, or respond in kind.
If you choose to stay away from the social trend of fighting and name-calling, every once in awhile you may be rewarded with excellent conversations. The most fulfillling kind offers everyone involved educational nuggets that can be used in future discussions! Conversations of this nature can be highly satisfying, but you first must know how to achieve this goal. I hope that I have been able to assist you in re-evaluating your methods of conversing, and developing positive interaction skills. Development of skills such as these will take you far!
Did I miss anything important? Do you have suggestions of things that I could add? If you do, then leave them in the comments below, and I will consider editing this article. You will get the credit you deserve! Happy debating everyone!
When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.— Socrates
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