How to talk politics with friends—and still have some left

Provo, UT—September 26, 2012—Romney and Obama aren’t the only ones taking sides in intense debates this election season. According to a new poll from VitalSmarts and the authors of the New York Times best-seller Crucial Conversations, 62 percent of Americans have found themselves in heated debates and the victims of verbal attacks and manipulative behavior when discussing politics—with their friends.

And according to the research, the collateral damage of a political discussion gone wrong is substantial. Three out of five say they’ve had a political conversation damage a relationship with a friend, family member or co-worker, and 14 percent say the relationship never truly recovered. Take one survey respondent’s experience, for example.

Angie’s in-law posted several derogatory political comments on Facebook, which Angie refrained from commenting on despite her opposing political views. However, one day Angie decided to ask her in-law what the point of the comments was. Angie’s questions set off a heated discussion, which led her to unfriend and block her in-law on Facebook. This ultimately caused a divide in the family as other members took sides. That divide still exists three years after the political discussion went south.

The study of more than 500 people found that only 15 percent of respondents believe they can express their full political views to others without getting upset. So, rather than risk an emotional verbal battle, 86 percent avoid political discussions and one in 10 report they stay away from political banter at all costs.

Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Conversations, says you don’t have to be a pushover or stay silent in order to keep your friends and family this election season.

“The essence of democracy is a contest of ideas. So if we can’t talk about politics, we really can’t develop better decisions,” says Grenny. “What people don’t realize is it’s possible to be 100 percent candid and 100 percent respectful in crucial conversations—even political discussions.”

Grenny offers four tips for successfully talking politics with family, friends and co-workers:

  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 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 Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and Change Anything—award-winning training products and New York Times best-selling books that enrich relationships and improve results. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 800,000 people worldwide.

Note to editor: Author Joseph Grenny and Angie are available for interviews. Copies of Crucial Conversations are available upon request.

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 564 individuals—one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third Independent. Margin of error is approximately 3%.

CONTACT: Laura Potter of VitalSmarts, L.C. +1-801-510-7590, or lpotter at vitalsmarts dot com.

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