How to Talk Politics with Friends – And Still Have Some Left

Provo, Utah, Oct 21, 2004 — Imagine this: You’re trapped in one of those nasty political debate shows where your opponent uses name calling, insults and exaggeration to discredit your opinions. Welcome to reality.

According to a recent VitalSmarts Web survey, this is how a majority of us discuss political differences.* Two-thirds of U.S. adults surveyed say their political discussions with friends, co- workers and family lead to attacks or controlling behavior. Half of the respondents say they leave the discussion feeling dissatisfied, and more than half believe the discussion weakened their friendships.

With 40% of people talking politics more than in the past, how can you safely talk politics – and still have a few friends afterwards?

“You don’t have to be a pushover to make friends in political discussions,” says New York Times bestselling author Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior (McGraw-Hill, Sept 2004, $16.95). “It’s possible to be 100 percent candid and 100 percent respectful in any discussion – even when disagreeing over your favorite candidate!”

Grenny offers a few tips for improving the outcome of any disagreement.

  1. Look for areas of agreement. Begin by reinforcing the basic values and purposes you hold in common. Political differences are usually over tactics or individuals, not basic values. Let the other person know you share common goals, even if your preferred tactics for achieving them differ.
  2. Avoid personal attacks. Find ways to remind the other person that you respect them. Look at the situation from their perspective by asking yourself why a reasonable and rational person would hold that political view. While you don’t have to agree with their view, you can still acknowledge their view is valid, rather than “idiotic” or “evil.”
  3. Focus on facts, and be tentative, not dogmatic. We’ve all become masters at spin detection, and none of us like when people exaggerate, twist and spin the facts. 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 in different ways?
  4. Keep it safe by looking for signs of silence or violence. If the other person grows quiet or starts to become defensive, step out of the content of the discussion and restore safety. Reinforce your respect for them, and remind them of the broader purpose you both share. With enough safety you can talk about anything.

Follow these steps for friendlier and better informed political discussions. Your friends will thank you!

*Survey results come from an unscientific poll of 150 people who responded to our October Web survey.


About VitalSmarts

A global leader in organizational performance and leadership, VitalSmarts provides training and consulting services to thousands of organizations, including more than 300 of the Fortune 500. For more than 25 years, the company principals have researched methods for bringing about systematic and lasting change. Crucial Conversations®, (including The New York Times bestselling book of the same title—McGraw-Hill 2002) delivers a set of influence tools that vitalize companies, strengthen teams, improve communities and enrich relationships. Borrowing from more than 20 years of research, VitalSmarts introduces its newest Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling title, Crucial Confrontations (McGraw-Hill 2004), as well as a new set of training tools that teach organizations, teams and individuals to effectively deal with violated expectations in a way that solves the problem at hand and strengthens the relationship. VitalSmarts also offers other services including keynote speaking, on-site consulting, customized development and executive mastery retreats. The company was founded in 1990 and is privately held.

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