If you've ever found yourself amidst a heated discussion, palms sweating, heart pounding and one ignorant remark away from screaming and/or launching into a 15-minute tirade about how the person in front of you is just WRONG WRONG WRONG – well, you might find the following tips rather helpful.
LISTEN UP Everyone arrives at their political opinions in their own way, so when you find yourself in a discussion that leans away from your personal beliefs, try not to arc up immediately. It’s worth listening to what your conversation partner has to say, so you can understand how they got to where they are. Allowing them the opportunity to explain their position is a critical part of a respectful discussion – so, if you find you’re talking at a million miles an hour and not letting them get a word in edgewise, slow down and zip your lips for a minute. Really take in what the other person is saying. You might even learn a thing or two, or find something to mull over yourself.
KEEP IT CIVIL When a calm conversation evolves into a full-on slanging match, nobody wins. After all, it’s hard to think logically and keep an open mind when you’re busy playing defence. The key to any constructive conversation is showing the other side the respect you want to receive in return. Political talk can get ugly fast, but that can be curtailed if both parties involved show patience and mutual respect, rather than going straight for the throat with personal attacks or name-calling.
DON’T BAIT PEOPLE Trying to get a rise out of someone just for the hell of it is inconsiderate and, frankly, exhausting – in the entire history of the world, it’s probably never led to any productive conversations. It’s not edgy or cool to say something deliberately provocative just to start an argument. If you’re really interested in having a discussion, approach it from a place of curiosity, rather than antagonism. And if someone happens to be baiting you, know that you don’t have to take it – it’s not rude to say, “I’m not interested in having this conversation,” and walk away.
TAKE YOUR TIME The conversation doesn’t have to resolve itself on the spot: both parties can take a break, think things over, then return to the chat at another time, if you wish. When a lot of new information is being presented, a bit of space can help things really sink in. You might even like to go home and do further research on facts, figures and perspectives you’ve heard. It takes time for a mind to be changed, especially if it’s a stubborn one, so be patient with each other and you may be surprised at the results.
PICK YOUR BATTLES Is having an argument about asylum seekers with the IT guy at work really worth the death stares you’ll have to endure for the rest of the financial year? It’s not a cop-out if you decide not to engage in a conversation you can sense will probably end in tears. Pick the battles that are worth fighting, and recognise when something may end up causing too much distress – especially in professional situations or fraught family ones. There are good and bad times to get stuck into serious debates, so read the room and make a judgment call. Remember: your mental and emotional health come first.
ACCEPT A STALEMATE Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and we all have different opinions. Sometimes you simply won’t get someone to see things from your point of view, and that’s OK – it’s healthy to hear other people’s opinions, even if only to solidify your own. A political disagreement doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and even if it feels like it is, you can bow out quietly rather than sending the relationship up in flames with a screaming match. Often, it’s just not worth the energy.