Last month, we polled 1,866 of our newsletter readers and found that 9 out of 10 feel the 2016 elections are more polarizing and controversial than the 2012 elections. In fact, 1 in 3 have been attacked, insulted, or called names, and 1 in 4 have had a political discussion hurt a relationship.
The data shows most of these heated discussions take place in the following locations:
• the home (40%)
• the community (31%)
• the workplace (28%)
• on social media (26%)
And for most, talking politics is so bad that they just avoid speaking up altogether. In fact, 81% admit to avoiding political discussions at all costs; in general, people are far more restricted about who they talk politics with than they were in 2012. And the people they most avoid include coworkers (79%), strangers (70%), and neighbors (56%).
And yet, people aren’t fighting about the issues. Respondents report that many of the topics that were “hot” four years ago are no longer controversial.
In 2016, the issues people struggle to discuss include: foreign policy, gun control and terrorism. In 2012, people struggled to agree on: same-sex marriage, economic recovery, taxes, healthcare, education and the role of the government.
So if the issues aren’t lighting everyone’s fire, then it’s clear the candidates themselves are the toxic topic.
When asked to describe people who supported a candidate they didn’t like, the top ten most used adjectives included (in order): angry, uneducated, ignorant, uninformed, racist, white, narrow and blind.
However, we also probed to find formulas from those who successfully discussed politics with someone who held a dramatically different opinion. When asked what they did that worked, respondents most often used words like: agree, listen, common, open, respect, think, and ask.
By analyzing the tactics used by subjects who reported holding successful political conversations, we uncovered four tips for talking politics with others—even those voting for the candidate you despise the most.
1. Look for areas of agreement. Let the other person know you share common goals, even if your preferred tactics for achieving them differ.
2. Avoid personal attacks. While you don’t have to agree with the other person’s view, you can still acknowledge that his or her view is valid, rather than “idiotic” or “evil.”
3. Focus on facts and be tentative. Consider the source of your facts, and ask the other person to do the same. Ask two questions: Could the facts be biased? Could they be interpreted differently?
4. Look for signs of disagreement. If the other person grows quiet or starts to become defensive, reinforce your respect for him or her and remind him or her of the broader purpose you both share.
View the results of our study in the infographic below or download a copy for yourself.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations