7 Tips to Respectfully Discuss Divisive Topics:

7 Tips to Respectfully Discuss Divisive Topics:

America has grown increasingly divided, especially over the course of this last election, and I worry in today’s political climate, it could get worse before it gets better.

The increasing divisiveness has made me want to only spend time with people I agree with. But I’ve realized that my tendency to stay one sided only reinforces my own way of thinking, and does not help us bridge the widening gaps between us.  Americans now more than ever need to find ways to bridge the divide. We need to be able to sit down and respectfully talk to people we don’t agree with, and find common ground. It is the only way we will be able to make the changes we need to benefit us all!

I am no diplomat, but I tend to seek out very diplomatic friends, so I asked them for their wisdom. With their support I’ve developed 7 tips we can take to respectfully discuss divisive topics.

1.)  Listen

corporate-man-listenListen for their feelings and validate those. We all have feelings and can relate to that. The stories that we use to justify those feelings may be different.   Listening engenders trust, and we won’t be able to persuade someone without trust.

2.)   Know about the backfire effect.

Realize that arguing actually helps each party solidify their own argument. It’s called the backfire effect.   Do NOT expect to be able to change their beliefs. Their beliefs are often developed by years of accruing information from people they trust. You will have to be deemed as a trusted source of information before they might be even willing to hear what you have to say.  If you need to change the topic, try acknowledging the person’s feelings about the issue. Then say that the issue upsets you too, but that arguing about it is likely to be divisive, and that you would hate to miss out on the opportunity for a greater connection.   This sends the message that you more interested in a connection and that you are wanting to agree to disagree without having to justify yourself and risk further triggering each other.

3. ) Check your attitude.

If you are having a hard time respecting the other person for their views, and are not open to being persuaded otherwise, it would be wiser to avoid any topics that are likely to be divisive.   Realize that at any point in time, we are all doing our best.

4.)  Look for areas of agreement.

There are issues that most people on both sides of the political isle agree on. Inequality, corruption and the restoration of our Democracy are examples.   If they say something about the topic that seems ridiculous or wrong to you, find the areas you agree on and then try redirecting their thought patterns with questions that are likely to generate agreement.  If you start to notice them considering your perspective, don’t rub it in. If you stay respectful, you are more likely to be able to influence.

5.) Inquire and stay curious:

lincoln-not-liking-manIf we want to work on bridging the gaps that divide our country, we have to be able to listen to other’s opinions with the intention to foster greater understanding.   Research shows that Democrats and Republicans stereotypically have fundamental drivers that influence the way they think. Because our opinions are shaped by fundamentally different world views, we have to be able to understand each other’s perspective to have any influence. Abraham Lincoln once said that if there ever was a man that he didn’t like, he would immediately say to himself…I must not know him well enough.

6.)  Seek to understand the bigger picture:

Jonathan Heidt who’s research is on the morals of liberals vs. conservatives says that it is useful to let go of the view that the opposite side is immoral, and realize that our choices are based on different moral principles.  He says in his TED talk, that we all think we are right.   But he recommends stepping out of our moral authority, to realize that there is more than one way to see things.   The concept of yin/yang is being able to see that there is a dichotomy and a purpose for each side.   For a greater understanding of how our morals differ, check out his Ted Talk here:

7.)  Remain flexible

Chris Ulner of Special Books by Special Kids travels around connecting with neurodiverse children that that a variety of special needs. He is brilliant at finding ways of connecting with children that many adults struggle to reach.   He demonstrates his ability to connect and the power of flexibility in this video. The lesson can be applied to any interaction! The video is truly inspiring!

Have you tried any of these methods? Have they worked for you? Do you have suggestions for discussing divisive topics that are not included here? Please comment below.

Do you know anyone who would find this useful?  Please use the links below to share!



Special thanks to my friends for their wisdom on this subject:   Peter Michael Feysa IV, Marilyn Marshall, Vicki Rhoades, Jaqueline Coppage, Maria Mangiarelli Rippo, Jessica Friend, Jim Ruetenik, Sara Louise Waters, Jim Kellner

Image “Disagree Or Agree Directions” courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image “Corporate Man Listening With Hand On Ear” courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

modified Image of “Lincoln” courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net





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