Talking Politics? Here's How to Remain Civil with Friends

During weekends and breaks from college, the best activity is coming home to reunite with family and friends. You meet for lunch or or gather around the dinner table to catch up, discussing things like your plans for summer, movies that just hit the theaters, and restaurants you've loved recently. All seems well until someone asks: “So, what are your thoughts on the 2020 candidates?” Then, issues like impeachment, immigration, health care, gun reform, and climate change are all suddenly up for debate too.

With so many polarizing issues and events out there, politics becomes a taboo subject, especially with close friends who have differing perspectives. Opening the conversation up to complicated political perspectives can be a dangerous game to play, but one that is very worthwhile if you navigate it delicately. Before dismissing the discussion outright in favor of a more neutral topic, here are a few things to keep in mind so that the conversation remains amicable among your friends.

There is no right answer. 

It's natural to go into a political discussion with firm personal beliefs, but it's important to remember they are yours and not always shared by everyone else. While some opinions may overlap, each viewpoint is unique, and no one is obligated to align with your beliefs just because you say so. Basically, learn to respectfully disagree, without using the phrase, “You are wrong.” In reality, there’s a chance you’re wrong about some things, and your friend is too. 

"An opinion is your own because you’re the only one that decides it,” says Gabrielle Smith, a sophomore at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “You can’t just assume your perspective is right.”

There will be diverse and diverging perspectives in these conversations, and it’s important to understand that each one is very targeted to each individual’s upbringing, worldview, culture, and identity. Try to avoid condemning your friends for having a point of view that’s different than yours, and expect to be treated respectfully by them as well. Understanding these differences and recognizing their validity keeps the conversation from turning sour. 

"I think there’s a difference between saying what you think and pushing your opinion onto someone else,” Smith continues. “It’s okay to respectfully disagree, but you can’t assert your views like they are the only ones that matter.” 

Listen before you lose it. 

The current United States political climate is more divided than ever, and ignoring other perspectives will only cause the division to grow. Instead, the best way to attempt to come together is by listening. Listening may seem like a surface-level practice, but there’s more to it than just letting the other side speak. You should attempt to understand and internalize your friend's words, in addition to maintaining an open mind. "I think it’s more about hearing what they’re saying instead of arguing,” says Ila Delmarsh, a sophomore at UCSB. “Just listen to what they have to say, and if they still don’t agree then it’s not your place to convince them. At least you heard something new.”

Try not to be a jerk when your friend shares their stance on an issue that feels meaningful to them, even when it feels like the opposite of your own beliefs. If you listen to someone who has as much stock in their beliefs that you have in yours, you can gain a different perspective. Just by understanding where the opposition is coming from, you’ll be more informed and better equipped to express your points. 

Most importantly, listening is a two-way street. When you’re patient and open to new ideas, the other side will be too. 

Speak about what you know.

As it should be, discussing politics is more than a matter of opinion. Having the facts handy in order to back up your claims can ground the conversation as it gets more complex. This way, discussions are more thoughtful than a “he said, she said” downward spiral.

“When I feel like I know what I’m talking about, I’m not as nervous going into the conversation,” explains Mehr Sharma, junior at UCSB.  

Sometimes, people have opinions but can’t explain why, and that’s when they get defensive, or paint broad strokes by saying things like “all republicans are too conserative” or “democrats don’t understand how the economy works.” Speak up on issues you can cite facts for, and listen to your friends for new and helpful information you may not know. This will keep you unbiased. Along the way, I guarantee you that you’ll learn something new. 

Take a deep breath.

Some political topics such as reproductive rights and immigration might feel like a discussion tied to personal morals, but talking about subjects like the debt crisis and the economy aren’t something to quit a friendship over. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. Politics and passion go hand in hand, but those feelings can make you say something you will likely regret. In the heat of the moment, take a breather and think before you speak. 

Apologize if you spoke too soon or yelled something that could have been said a different way. This may require you to take the first step and be the bigger person, but once you do, everyone involved can start to move on. If you still feel like you can’t keep the conversation civil any longer, or the argument itself has gone too far, excuse yourself. A short break, or a change of topic, can help regulate tensions. 

“Talking about politics is important, but if it’s something that’s going to turn into a huge fight with someone close to you, it’s not really worth talking about at all,” Sharma concludes. “I might just hold my tongue in order to preserve some sort of civility in the conversation.”

Talking politics with friends may feel uncomfortable the first time, but it's not impossible. Embracing your differences is definitely a power move, and something we could use more of in this time of political turmoil. Use these tips to remain calm, and the conversation won’t only be cordial, it will be eye-opening.