How to Approach Political Discourse: 5 Steps

There are many important issues on which conservatives and liberals disagree – issues like the best way to approach healthcare and the free market, for instance. However, is the best way to approach this discourse to call your friends and colleagues immoral or stupid on Facebook?

Free speech allows us to voice our opinions in the way we please, but that doesn’t mean that some methods aren’t more constructive than others. Here are a few steps to help you communicate with those who disagree with you, specifically with regard to social media.

Step 1: Consider the goal of your interaction.

If your motivation for commenting on a Facebook post is not productive, then your interaction won’t be either, so consider for a second: why are you responding? Are you angered and looking to vent? Are you trying to tell them they are wrong without allowing for conversation?

These kinds of motivations cause more problems than they solve. Instead, try to open up a conversation. Present your side of the argument, but be ready for a counterargument. You should be able to defend your argument rather than responding negatively just because somebody has a different opinion.

Step 2: Evaluate the emotional and logical sides of the argument.

People base their decisions on a combination of logic and emotion. After setting a goal, you need to ask yourself why you believe what you do and why the person you are talking with believes differently. You should know why you believe what you do before you try to tell it to somebody else.

Although both sides should have some logical reasoning, you may find that one side weighs on it more heavily than another. After making a logical analysis of an issue, many times emotion can be the deciding factor in determining the stance somebody takes.

Realizing that somebody else’s reasoning relies more (or less) on emotion (or a different kind of emotion) than yours can help you understand why that person has come to a different conclusion on the same issue. This means that the things that cause you to take one side on the issue will not be helpful in convincing the other person of your beliefs. Instead, you need to talk to them about what actually concerns them and try to address those issues.  

Step 3: Listen!

This is essential to having a productive conversation and should be your first priority. You already know what you believe; now you have to figure out what they believe. Do not assume that you already know, as you will often be misled.

Once they have made a statement, it can be helpful to clarify with them so that you know you understand correctly. Make sure you pick up what makes them passionate about their stance. Once you find out what they are trying to say, you can use this to address their concerns and explain your argument.

Step 4: Never resort to petty name-calling.

I wish this didn’t need to be said, but name-calling is immature and will get you nowhere. Nobody listens to what you are trying to say after you have insulted them. Though I strongly believe that all speech is free speech (including hate speech), this concept of name-calling does not persuade anyone and will cause them to immediately shut you out.

You can also be shut out for bluntly calling somebody wrong (especially without context or support). You have to remember that they think you are wrong just as much as you think they are. Being considerate to people will make them more likely to listen to your ideas even if they disagree.

Step 5: Admit when you are wrong.

If you make a mistake in your logic, don’t be afraid to admit it and correct yourself; mistakes are a natural and common occurrence. Political discourse should be a way to not only challenge someone else’s ideas but also your own, and this can be a good way to understand why you stand for what you do. In some cases, you can even gain respect by admitting your mistake.

At the end of the day, if you can’t remember these tips, just try to be a decent person like your mama taught you. You don’t have to agree with everybody – diversity of opinion is important – but a little understanding and political tolerance can go a long way.


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