Political differences have divided the country in this last year, and will likely continue to do so for some time. For many couples and friends, this national conflict is played out in their very personal relationships. As with other areas of strong disagreement, people often choose to avoid the hot topics all together. But when that doesn’t work, or you really want to talk about your differences, the future of your relationship may depend on the way you have such emotionally-charged conversations.
Below are a few key tips for how to approach tense topics of conversation:
Pick a calm time to talk. When people are highly emotional, they often become defensive, closed-minded, and less clear in their thinking. By choosing to talk at a time when you are both calm, you increase the chances that you will be open to what each other is saying – even if you don’t agree.
Be respectful. Remember that your disagreement is with each other’s position, not with each other as people. And no progress is ever made in arguments or heated discussions when either party feels discounted or disrespected. So, some basic ground rules: no name-calling, condescension, or talking over each other.
Listen – really listen. It can help to remind yourself that you actually like and value the other person, making it worthwhile to try hard to understand their perspective – even if you don’t agree.
To make sure that your biases aren’t distorting their message, paraphrase what you hear. If the other person says you aren’t getting it, then ask for clarification. Hold your arguments and disagreements until you fully understand what they are trying to say. To clarify, it’s not enough for you to think you get it. They must say you get it. It is also important to understand that this can be extremely difficult to do, but it is absolutely essential if you want the conversation to be productive.
Take a break when necessary. If your emotions overtake your ability to think clearly and be truly open to listening, you may find that it helps to take a break. When an initially intellectual discussion turns into feeling more like personal attacks, you need to stop the conversation for a bit. After you’ve had a chance to cool down, you might also need to address any hurt feelings.
You may find it helpful to actively do things to calm down. For instance, you can exercise, take a warm bath, or get out into nature for a while.
Re-affirm your relationship. If your conversation was heated, consider doing things that help you feel closer again afterward. This might mean talking about “old times,” simply expressing your appreciation for your friendship, or making plans to do an activity together.
While people often give lip service to appreciating each other’s differences, this is often difficult to really do. Tempers often flare and feelings get hurt. But if you approach your differences with care, both you and your relationship can grow.