How to Have Difficult Conversations in a Tense Political Climate

Written by Leah Erben and Sarah Krishef
Posted on November 2, 2020

Two girls having a conversation while on a walk.
Two girls sitting down outside and having a conversation
Two girls having a conversation

This election has been stressful for many of us, and we’ve all noticed the division within our country and our communities. Tensions are running high, and we sometimes struggle to remain civil with the friends, family, or roommates who disagree with us. 

How do we handle such difficult conversations with those who have differing opinions?

#1. Share Your Story

When you want someone to understand your point of view or your values, it’s helpful to share relevant stories from your own life experiences. You’ll also need to be willing to listen to their stories too and try to understand why they believe what they believe. Go into the discussion with the intention of growing and building upon each other’s perspectives.

#2. Hear the Other Side

Rather than going into a debate seeking to change the other person’s mind, try to focus on some shared values and work towards mutual understanding. Explore the “gray areas” of your own opinions or the things that confuse you; take it as an opportunity to learn something from your fellow humans.

#3. Watch Your Words

During any conversation, you have a responsibility to be careful with your words. Use “I statements” to avoid blaming the other person. Steer clear of the word “but” to avoid an overly defensive tone. Swearing and name calling isn’t going to help you get your point across, so do your best to keep your temper in check. Finally, if you say something that hurts the other person, acknowledge it. Don’t shy away from the words “I’m sorry.”

 #4. Take a Break

Take breaks when you need to. If the conversation gets out of control or escalates to blaming, accusations, or shouting, decide to end it there and pick it up another time. Take a deep breath and spend some time away from each other, and going forward, do your best to focus on what brings you together.

#5. Know When to Walk Away

Always try to have civil conversations with those who disagree with you, but it’s also ok to walk away from the conversations that keep going nowhere. If you’re consistently unable to find common ground with someone, you’re repeatedly treated with disrespect, or it seems like their opinions are based in hate, direct your time and energy elsewhere.

We’re all Lakers, and we all come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences. It’s normal to have differing opinions and perspectives, but we should also remember and acknowledge our shared values that make us human.

For additional advice, resources, and wisdom, visit the Padnos/Sarosik Civil Discourse Program website and start working towards mutual respect in your day-to-day life.

Learn about Civil Discourse

Page last modified November 2, 2020