Weapons of Mass Discussion

77 percent of Americans think it's impossible to candidly discuss politics

PROVO, UT September 10, 2008 A new study shows that for the majority of Americans, talking politics with friends and family can be nasty, difficult and downright unpleasant. So they don't.

According to a recent poll conducted by VitalSmarts and the New York Times bestselling authors of Crucial Conversations, 77 percent of people avoid discussing politics, and one in ten even report that they stay away from political banter at all costs. Nearly half of respondents have had bad experiences in the past when sharing their political views—and rather than risk a verbal battle, they hunker down and shut up.

“This is a tragedy for democracy,” reports Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Conversations. “Our founding fathers believed spirited public discourse was the crucible of democratic decision-making. And here we have evidence that dialogue has all but ceased. The result is a public whose opinions are rarely tested and challenged.”

But why is everyone biting their tongue come election time?

According to the survey of more than 600 people, talking politics is a matter of emotional control—or lack thereof. As soon as the discussion escalates or becomes the least bit controversial, only 28 percent feel they can control their own temper and only 23 percent believe they can handle if it the other person gets upset.

Grenny says that political conversations have become crucial conversations—conversations where the stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions vary.

“People no longer feel safe discussing politics,” says Grenny. “These discussions quickly turn from casual conversation into personal attacks on people's values and interests.”

And with 66 percent of people believing the current political race is more controversial than in past elections, friendly political dialogue is taking a back seat to the perceived emotional stress it may cause.

“What most people don't realize is that it's possible to be 100 percent candid and 100 percent respectful in any discussion—even when disagreeing over your favorite candidate,” says Grenny.

Grenny offers a few tips for successfully talking politics:

  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 their view is valid, rather than “idiotic” or “evil.”
  3. 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. 4. Look for signs of disagreement. If the other person grows quiet or starts to become defensive, reinforce your respect and remind him or her of the broader purpose you both share.

About VitalSmarts

An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to award-winning training products that deliver powerful tools for enriching relationships and improving end results. The company also has three New York Times bestselling books, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer. VitalSmarts has been listed twice on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies and has taught more than 2 million people worldwide. www.vitalsmarts.com

Note to editor: Joseph Grenny, coauthor of, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stake are High, is available for interview or guest appearance to share with your readers/viewers his tips for talking about politics with friends and family.

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 614 individuals. Margin of error is approximately 3%. Full survey results are available upon request.

CONTACT: Brittney Maxfield of VitalSmarts, L.L.C. +1-801-724-6272, or bmaxfield@vitalsmarts.com.

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