In one of the most politically heated times in our history, making the personal decision to express your point of view can be tricky. Although a conversation may start out benign, it can quickly become a toxic dialogue.
Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author, and founder of Access to Culture, says there are several dos and don’ts to ensure polite political discourse doesn’t turn into a hostile debate.
Show respect for differing opinions
It can be challenging to listen to those with differing opinions, but it’s important to show respect and take time to listen, giving the other person an opportunity to share their viewpoints. The Platinum Rule encourages treating others as they wish to be treated. Stay calm, collected, and respectful.
Agree to disagree
If their opinions are different from your views, you can agree to disagree. Try saying something along the lines of “I respect your perspective, but I think we may need to agree to disagree” or “That’s a different way of thinking about the issue, but I’m comfortable if you and I can agree to disagree.”
If someone asks you a question about your political beliefs, you can reciprocate by asking them about their own. Let the other person do the talking while you listen. Try to ask open-ended questions such as, “What are your thoughts on the current political atmosphere?” or “How do you feel about the media’s portrayal of …?”
Change the subject
If someone continues to ask your opinion, change the topic by saying: “It’s impossible to keep track of the different versions of the news. How is your family doing, by the way?” Or “With the divisive political atmosphere, I’m not comfortable sharing my personal opinions, but thank you for your interest.” Or “I can’t answer that question, but what I can discuss is… ”
Get angry, cross, or upset
It can be difficult to keep your temper, but don’t get angry or upset if you don’t agree with someone’s viewpoint. Expressing sarcasm, bitterness, or passive aggressiveness won’t change any minds – it will only damage your reputation.
Talk over them
The worst thing you could do is interrupt conversation and start talking about your own opinion. Be respectful of other opinions and views. Listen attentively, especially when you don’t agree with that viewpoint. It gets easier the more you practice.
Politics is a difficult conversation, particularly with family members and close friends. If you’re speaking to someone you’ve just met, refrain from oversharing. In this case, less is more. Avoid saying something you’ll later regret.
We make mental notes when we initially meet someone new. We form a first impression based on hair, shoes, watch, clothing, mannerisms, etc. However, political views are hidden unless they’re shared verbally or through wearing a revealing detail. It’s important to approach people with an open mind to avoid awkward and potentially toxic conversations.
Sharon Schweitzer is a cross-cultural and international etiquette expert