How to Discuss Politics Politely

Man and woman talking in a government building. Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

Over the past several years, political talk has become extremely heated. There was a time when polite people weren't supposed to discuss in social settings (politics and religion), but today, that seems a tad too strict.

In fact, discussing politics can be quite enlightening and healthy in a relationship as long as it is done with respect. Unfortunately, the respect factor is often a sticking point.

Once the political discussion begins, people who start out with the best of intentions often become defensive and then offensive

Be cautious about where you discuss politics. If you're not careful, a heated political discussion at the office can ruin your reputation at the office and hurt your prospects of moving up the corporate ladder. When you get into a debate with friends, you could damage even a long-term relationship. And when you demand to have your say at the dinner table during a family meal, you might cause indigestion in those who love you the most.

One thing we all need to remember is that tirades, rants, and name-calling will never win over someone who disagrees. It might make you feel better momentarily, but after a while, you may regret some of the things you said in the heat of the moment. Even if you don't, friends who have been subjected to your outbursts may walk a wide berth around you in the future.

You may not care, and if that's the case, this isn't for you. However, if you are concerned even a tiny bit, here are some suggestions on how you can show respect for others as you talk about your political beliefs:

  1. Know what you and others can handle. If you are someone who loves a heavy-duty political debate, go right ahead and have at it. On the other hand, if you are easily offended and get your hackles up when someone attacks your political views, don't let the conversation go in that direction. There is no point in damaging an otherwise healthy relationship for the sake of a political conversation that will leave you feeling hurt or angry.
  1. Listen. Give everyone a chance to speak before you break into a long discussion. Speaking from experience, I know it's difficult not to interrupt when you agree or disagree strongly with something that is said.
  2. Avoid an accusatory tone. If a debate ensues, try to keep your tone even and without any hint of accusing someone of being anything negative (stupid, unenlightened, immoral, or anything that can start a heated argument).
  3. Avoid name-calling. The second someone calls another person in the group a derogatory name, the discussion is on dangerous ground. Don't be that person.
  4. Ask questions. If you aren't clear on a point that someone is making—whether you agree or disagree—ask specific questions to clarify. And then give the person a chance to answer without interruption. You may be surprised and learn something when she answers.
  5. Don't take anything personally. Someone may totally oppose your political beliefs, but if she is your friend, it's obvious that she likes you as a person. Don't consider yourself personally affronted just because someone disagrees with your political views.
  6. Don't sling arrows or use foul language. If you know you're in the presence of someone who has opposing views, don't take jabs at people who believe what she does and don't use swear words. That will only drive a wedge between you, and you may never be able to repair the relationship in the future. Polite language will keep others listening and engaged in the conversation.
  1. Do research. Before you state something as fact, research the details. Your argument won't stand up if you misquote or misrepresent the facts. Be careful who or what you quote. One thing that I've always found amusing is the comment, "I read it somewhere." I would want to know where you read it and who wrote it.
  2. Find common ground. Don't assume that just because you follow an opposing political party that you disagree on all issues. There must be something you can agree on, or you wouldn't be friends.
  3. Give praise. When the other person makes a good point, even if you don't agree with the general concept, give her credit by saying something like, "I can see your point," or "Now that you put it that way, it makes sense." Saying this shows that you are listening, and you respect the other person's opinions, even if you don't agree.