How to avoid conflict in political discussions

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Politics are the source of a good amount of stress for many people, no matter which candidate they prefer. IU Health clinical psychologist Dr. Anne Lewis explains how to avoid anxiety when having political discussions.

1)      How do you think this year’s election has impacted people’s emotions?

This year’s election has created a great deal of passion and intense reactions from people in general.  Many people are expressing anxiety and anger, for a variety of reasons.

2)      Any key tips people should remember if they’re engaging in a political conversation, where everyone may not have the same beliefs?

Key Tips for Political conversation:

  1. Keep it POLITE. Oftentimes when we get into heated discussions in which we believe others NEED to hear our viewpoint, we forget that others have just as much right to not listen.  How we respond to others is not a reflection of someone’s else’s issues, it is a reflection of our own.  Angry that friends belittle others with different political ideas?  Then don’t do it yourself.  Keep consistent with your own character and values.  Opinions are just that,  opinions.  If I told you I loved dark chocolate, and you responded back that you hated chocolate altogether, we are unlikely to get in a heated debate about how I’m right and you’re wrong.  I’m unlikely to get into sharing all the fabulous benefits of dark chocolate unless you seem sincerely open to hearing out my viewpoint.  Otherwise, I am perfectly fine liking dark chocolate without your endorsement.  Look at political discussions in the same manner, if someone appears to want to understand your viewpoint, share.  If not, keep yourself aligned with what you value of yourself in interactions with others.
  2. Be Reasonable. I’ve never met another human being who said they were convinced of their “wrongness” by hostility.  Likewise, we are unlikely to change our entire political climate by convincing one person to jump to our side.  Instead, as the saying goes, “be the change you want to see.”  If you want to stand behind a particular issue, find a manner by which you assert your opinions on this issue in a manner reflective of what would change others.   Communication is not about what we say, it’s largely about understanding how to communicate to the people we are speaking with.
  3. Let it Go. This may sound cliché but learning how to let things go is just as important as learning when to assert yourself.  Walk away from a conversation or don’t even read a provocative social media post surrounding the political debate.  Move on, not everything requires your input and emotional investment.

3)       It’s no secret that people are struggling to have a civil conversations about politics, but what should we keep in mind if a political conversation turns contentious?

When conversations turn sour, move on.  A simple, “it appears we disagree”, or “it appears this may not be a great topic for us both” can assert the need to move on from the topic at hand.  If this doesn’t work or fit your style, simply move to changing the subject.  Find a “back up” topic that seems to fit  - the weather, what your child did at dinner last night, a funny moment you both shared together or recent developments on the latest episode of your favorite TV show.  You could also ask them about other things in life that you know that interest them.

4)      Social media has played a big role in the conversation; what should people remember when it comes to remaining calm when bombarded by political messages on social media?

Social media prevents a litany of interesting dilemmas.  If you get upset by the random political postings, try not to respond.  You can also unfollow others or refuse to get on to social media again until you know things have died down a bit.  Many assume we just should not be upset by what we read or see.  The reality is that if it impacts you and doesn’t need to, don’t expose yourself to it unnecessarily.  It is useful to be informed but not useful for us to be upset or angry throughout the day.  Pick the times you most want to get information and chose those times sparingly and wisely.