6 Tips for Avoiding Arguments When Talking Politics

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

Politics is one of the untouchable topics that many people are taught to steer clear of in day-to-day conversations.

Indeed, the discomfort of opening Pandora’s little box of politics is so great that 83 percent of people avoid talking about political issues, according to Kerry Patterson, interpersonal communication expert and co-author of, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.”

Patterson says few feel they can control their temper when discussing politics, and most have bad experiences when they share their opinions on the government.

It’s not surprising that most people chose to remain mum on the subject.

“Politics and religion are two things that are based on preferences—on a person’s sense of right and wrong. That’s why these discussions become so problematic—we’re having them in the clouds,” says Laurie Puhn, J.D., relationship expert and author of, “Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In.”

Keeping conversations civil

Every four years, our country becomes embroiled in a multitude of back and forth political debates that inflame the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere.

The deep philosophical divides that exist between Republicans and Democrats have never been more palpable than they are in the run up to the current election. It seems like every issue, from the environment to the economy, is being fiercely debated as President Obama and Governor Romney continue their quests to secure the Oval Office seat.

That doesn’t mean that political topics need to be taboo. Even if you disagree with the views of your conversational partner, there’s no reason that a political discussion can’t be thoughtful and illuminating for both of you.

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Here are some tips for navigating the muddy waters of political discourse without torching your relationships:

1. Be choosy: Pick your battles—the Golden Rule of interpersonal relationships—is especially valuable advice when discussing politics. If your husband is yelling at the television during a candidate’s speech, is that really affecting you? Probably not. So don’t bother starting an argument over it.

2. Seek shelter on common ground: Instead of focusing on how you and your conversational partner disagree, look for areas where your opinions harmonize. Patterson suggests beginning a conversation by highlighting the values and goals you both share.

3. Don’t get personal: Because politics are based largely on personal values and beliefs, there is no such thing a “right” or “wrong” way of interpreting the issues. If you’re having trouble seeing things from your partner’s point of view, try asking yourself why a rational person would come to such a conclusion. You may still not agree with them—you don’t have to—but Patterson says it’s important to admit that their perspective is valid.

4. Check your facts: Don’t waste time debating factual information you can just look up on the Internet. Before you engage in a lengthy debate over the exact amount of money that Obama’s plan for reducing the deficit is allegedly supposed to save, make sure you and your partner know what that number is.

5. Let a sleeping argument lie: Once a political discussion has reached a natural stopping point, make sure it doesn’t start back up again. Puhn advises quelling your desire to have the last word in an argument and suggests staying away from the phrase, “I just have one more thing to say about…”

6. Learn how to apologize: So many people don’t know how (or refuse) to apologize after they’ve said something wrong. Puhn gives three guidelines for effective apologies: embellish the wrong (“I made a really big mistake when…”), say why you’re sorry, and tell the person how you’re going to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Political discussions don’t have to be painful ordeals. In fact, they can be a great way for family members and friends to share opinions and learn more about one another.

Just remember to approach any conversation, political or not, with the goal of listening, rather than altering the other person’s opinion.

“Election season is not about changing a loved one’s mind—unless they’re running for president,” Puhn says, “Politics aren’t such a big deal, put your relationships first.”

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donald Baumgartner
donald Baumgartnerabout a year ago

STOP the GOP !! We don't talk politics in our family, too many Repugs in it !!!

EJ S.3 years ago

Here's an update: the 85% stat (presumably self-reported) may not be accurate. In a coffee shop where I'm a regular, there's another regular -- a nice guy -- nicknamed "the Senator" for his big voice and tireless repeating of Fox and Limbaugh memes.

Recently, just as my lunch arrived, he started warming up to discuss the President and the Democratic convention. Without thinking, I spoke up: "Oh, please could we skip the politics? People are eating."

He was thunderstruck, first because nobody ever interrupts him (it's hard to do). Then he muttered to himself, "This isn't politics" -- and then you could see him processing what he was saying. He remained silent for about 15 minutes, then started chatting about normal stuff.

But he was visibly startled to realize that a second-hand torrent of bile about the President and his campaign was in fact politics. I found it instructive, because it seemed to offer an insight on why some people seem so quick to dump their politics in the laps of everyone they meet these days -- maybe when your TV and radio spew a non-stop stream of political propaganda disguised as "news" at you, you really do lose sight of the fact that it's politics.

And of course that would mean that if somebody asked you if you talk politics, you'd answer, "No."

Lika S.
Lika S.3 years ago

I try to talk civilly. Those who disagree will interrupt me, state how they are right and I am wrong, won't listen, and what have you... When encountering people like that, it's either argue or walk away because they can't handle the disagreement.

Emily Drew
Emily Drew3 years ago

I don't get why people never want to talk about the most important issues in our lives! No one wants to talk about politics or religion, yet they both have a huge impact on everything! People will talk about the newest fashion trends and what not all day but refuse to talk about issues that are going to affect the world and future generations forever. The human species is just one big joke if you ask me.

A. Elizabeth G.3 years ago

Just walk away....

Nicole Gorman
Nicole Gorman3 years ago

My husband is a Republican and I'm a Liberal. I learned long ago that there was no such thing as a non-argumentative political discussion. Facts or no facts, some political issues simply boil down to a core set of beliefs that no amount of "facts" are going to change. Sometimes whether to vote for a candidate or party boils down to one key issue.

Nicole Gorman
Nicole Gorman3 years ago

My husband is a Republican and I'm a Liberal. I learned long ago that there was no such thing as a non-argumentative political discussion. Facts or no facts, some political issues simply boil down to a core set of beliefs that no amount of "facts" are going to change. Sometimes whether to vote for a candidate or party boils down to one key issue.

Sue T.
Susan T.3 years ago

Stop Obama.

Ken W.
Ken W.3 years ago


J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

good reminders