6 Conversation Tricks That'll Get You Out of a Political Discussion


Between election fallout, constant political news, and the occasional public controversy highlighting our country's ongoing crawl toward social justice, it's hard to keep quiet. At the same time, just because people are shouting doesn't mean you should, too. There is a way for you to engage smarter, especially when you know how and when to leave a conversation altogether. Here are six conversation hacks that'll save you from a political battle. (See also: 4 Financial Reasons to Keep Your Political Views Private)

1. Excuse (or recuse) yourself

There will be times when you are too close to the topic to see crystal clear. Let's say someone tells you that the Congressperson you voted for has duped you. No one wants to feel like a rube, so naturally, you would want to argue why that is not the case. Stop, and take a deep breath. People say, "a hit dog will holler," but if you don't holler at all, you've withheld the thing that person wanted: the satisfaction of getting a rise out of you. By ignoring the prompt to engage, there will be an unbearable awkward silence, and someone will change the subject.

What you can say

"Hey, as a [blank], I think you know what I think about [topic]. I'd love if we could talk about something on which we agree and enjoy our time together."

"If your goal is to convince me that you're right about [topic], that's not going to happen today. I'd appreciate if you respected my views."

"I'm a little too close to this subject to fight fairly on this one, so maybe we can just exchange some articles online and consider each other's views privately?"

2. Find the source and de-escalate

Figure out why the fight is taking place. Is this a repeat of another previous argument on a hot-button issue? If so, then whoever initiated must not have felt heard the first time. Acknowledge that and work toward a goal together. Is this fight about basic facts that can be proven? Remember that facts matter. If the person you're speaking with does not have evidence to back up their claims, this argument will go nowhere. Does someone just want to feel more informed than you? That's an arms race that will only lead to a damaged relationship. Give them the opportunity to share their information and thank them. Understand where the other person is coming from and take a moment to go back to the start and make a common goal.

What you can say

"I'm glad to know where you stand on this, but is there a reason why you chose to talk about this now?"

"I understand what you mean, because we have talked about this issue before. Is there something new you want to add?"

"I know we both want to have civil discussion about this, but we might feel better if we first establish what we agree on and go from there."

3. Pump the brakes at hate speech

Arguments can get heated, and in a tense moment, someone might express some ugly thoughts. No one likes confrontation, but it's hard to avoid if you are the victim of or a bystander to hate speech. Usually someone who spouts hate thinks they will get away with it because everyone must agree with them — or are afraid to disagree. Politely speak up, which might prevent this in the future. Then, comfort any possible victims in the room however you can. Everyone else in the room will be glad you did.

What you can say

"Party foul! What did you just say about [blank]?"

"No, that is actually not true and I'm really saddened to hear you say that."

"Is that something you really believe? I thought you knew better."

To victims: "Excuse me, I saw/heard what happened and I'm very sorry you had to endure that. What can I do to help?"

4. Know when to flee

Is someone exploiting an opportunity to turn a friendly discussion about current events into a dramatic inferno of rage? Perhaps someone you know likes to make controversy and is looking for a way into a fight. Don't let argument hobbyists push your buttons. Take a breath, then make a decision: Do you want to engage on this, or would you rather flee the scene? Don't forget that you do have that choice.

What you can say

"I'd love to focus on [original topic at hand]. I'm not interested in arguing with you."

"I hear what you're saying, but I can't have this discussion right now."

"Hey, I'm just here to [whatever you were doing]. Sorry."

5. Don't be a Devil's Advocate

Are you ever in a conversation where most people agree, then someone goes, "Well, just to play Devil's Advocate here...." and everyone's eyes roll? Don't be this guy. Arguing the point opposite of the person in front of you for its own sake is not only insincere, but it can be needlessly cruel in certain circumstances. Read the room, take stock of who's listening, and ask yourself whether this argument is warranted. If someone is doing this to you, there's no reason to argue back unless you wish to do so.

What you can say

"Is this how you actually feel? If not, why would you make this argument?"

"I'm pretty clear on the opposing arguments on this, thank you."

"Please don't insult my intelligence by assuming I don't understand the other point of view."

6. Don't abuse your power

If you're the senior manager, the older sibling, the parent, or any other position in which you may have some power over the others in the room, please acknowledge that position before things get heated. Regardless of your politics, telling others what to think makes you a bully. Bullying family members and coworkers will ultimately cause you to lose the respect of the very people from whom you desire it. Use your power to lead the discussion with wisdom.

What you can say

"I hope you know that while I am your [blank], I do not expect you to agree with me."

"It's none of my business what you believe, unless you think it is relevant to share with me."

"I'd love to keep this conversation free of opinion and speculation, please. We all want to respect each other after this, don't we?"

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