10 Tips for Having Difficult, Necessary Conversations with Friends and Family About Politics

At Down Home, we don’t want to leave folks behind… and for a lot of us, that means our friends and family. But how do we talk earnestly and honestly about our beliefs and politics, often across what seems like insurmountable divides?

1. Know your own purpose and intent. Ask yourself why you are engaging in a conversation and what you want your outcomes to be. 

2. Be vulnerable. Conversations that you have good reason to believe are going to be difficult or even tense are intimidating; acknowledging your own discomfort is a humanizing way to start any conversation.

3. Be genuinely curious. Ask questions and listen to the responses. Conversations about hard issues where we aren’t seeking to learn more about the other person are just debates.

4. Connect with others in the conversation using stories and shared experiences. Facts are always worthy to look at, but using real stories and examples from one’s own experience can be much more powerful. 

5. Avoid being performative. While sometimes, especially around family, you can and should be mindful of who else is listening (perhaps there are children nearby who need to hear a dissenting view to a harmful norm?), avoid feeling like you are performing for an audience– this can erode trust and cause others to do the same.

6. Try not to shame others. There is a subtle difference between shaming someone and naming a serious problem that needs to be named. Shaming naturally causes defensiveness and puts people in an ego-based defensiveness– then they can’t hear you. 

7. Listen as much as you talk. It’s just a good rule for all of us, always.

8. Ask clarifying questions for what you truly don’t understand. 

9. Do not center white emotions. If you are a white person discussing race, even with other white people,  it is important to avoid letting your emotions be the beginning or the end of the conversation.

10. Seek shared principles. Listen carefully to what others are saying to find beliefs, principles, and experiences that resonate with you and could help to build trust and alignment.