How to Talk About Politics, Religion, and other Divisive Topics Constructively

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*Okay, brace yourselves! We are going there! And go ahead and hunker down because we are about to get a little uncomfortable. Because change is uncomfortable. Acknowledge it, but don’t throw in the towel or shut down your computer. Try to lean into the discomfort to hopefully grow together. We can do this!*

Who should read this

My friends, what a weird time of life this is. There are SOOOO many different things that are causing friction every day and it is completely frustrating. I don’t think there is anyone out there right now relishing life and enjoying the tension happening. If you are having the time of your life right now and enjoying the pain of others, then this is not the post for you so just move along.

This is also probably not for anyone who is hoping for validation for their views. The world is full of validation within our echo chambers, so if you are hoping to continue business as usual, this is not for you either.

If you are still here and want to lean into the discomfort and be part of the change, let’s start the conversation about how to engage in these controversial topics, where to even begin, what it will look like, and how to navigate the conversation.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Unknown

First, I just want to thank you for wanting to be part of the solution. Having conversations around politics or religion or any number of controversial, divisive topics are not easy so give yourself some grace to make mistakes. This is the only way we make change for the better.

Still with me? Okay, let’s get uncomfortable and make some change.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Motives

What are your end goals for this conversation? Seriously think about this question. Take a minute. Be honest with yourself. Potentially journal or write it down. Don’t read on until you have considered this.

Did you come up with what you hope to accomplish, your motives? Do any of these match what you wrote: pounding the person into line, shaming them for their beliefs, pitying them for their ignorance? My friend, none of these conversations will end well. And, unfortunately, your message will fall on deaf ears. So again, I ask you, what are you hoping to get from this conversation?

*Amazon Link* If you don’t have a journal, I highly recommend one! Studies have shown how extremely beneficial journaling is for your mental health. This one holds your pen so that you can always find it.

If you are hoping for true change, then keep reading. But a word of caution, true change may not be how you envisioned it… You may be the one changed. Are you okay with being changed? Remember the golden rule: do unto others that you would have them do unto you. If you are not willing to change, why should they?

Well, let’s define change. Change can just be how you perceive them or maybe changing the entire way you are thinking about the subject. Before you begin the conversation though, you need to turn inward and be willing to change. It starts with YOU.

Are you ready to be the one changed? If the answer is no, don’t continue the conversation. Period. You have entered the argument realm and no one truly wins here.

Are you still with me? Congratulations! You are the change makers! You have more power than you know. Honor that power and you will be surprised by the rewards.

To truly create change, you also need to recognize the vulnerability and humanity being shared with you during these conversations. Personally, I will only discuss politics or religion or any other controversial topic with those who can respect me. So if you are one of the people that has had a tough conversation with me, congratulations! This means that I love you, I care about you, you are worth my time to get uncomfortable with, you are worthy of my humanity and vulnerability. These conversations are an act of love.

So, let’s just sit with that for a second. They are an act of love. That should feel powerful. That should shift your very being and the way you approach these conversations. They are coming from a place of love and respect. Honor that. Personally, I do not take it lightly when people are willing to have these uncomfortable discussions with me. I am grateful for you. I see this as an opportunity for us both to grow and learn something new. Thank you for being willing to help me learn a different perspective.

So that is what conversation about divisive topics is and how it should be approached.

So again, what are your motives for this conversation?

If you are willing to allow change to start with you, then you can take the next steps.

*** These are for general conversations. I recognize that conversations around divisive topics at work might have repercussions. Also, I do not advocate for turning a blind eye when an injustice is occurring. Although you may need to modify the following steps, they can still help you navigate these situations with more grace. ***

Step 2: ConnecT

How different would your conversations be if we truly came from a place of love?

Do you really believe this person has good intentions? Do you think that they want the world/nation/company/whatever they are involved in (referring to this now as _____ from here on out) to collapse, fail, be annihilated or do you believe that they deep down want what’s best for _____? If you feel they want the apocalypse, then definitely forgo the conversation. It is not worth your time or energy.

But if you think they are passionate and love _____, approach the topic from that love. You may have a different way of expressing that love and you probably have different ideas for how to best move forward, but hold firm to the place of love. This is where real change can happen.

So before entering further into your discussion, talk about _____ and your love for it. CONNECT!!! This is so key to having a tough conversation. Find that common ground.

Connecting to another is one of the most important things in the world and you can keep expanding that connection – one person, a family, a community, a country, a society, a culture.

Eric Fischl

And guys, if we butcher the start and cannot find that common love, give each other some grace and move on. Honestly, today just might not be the day to try to have this heart-to-heart. That is okay. But don’t give up either. Come back on a different day. This is love. You are telling this person that you care enough to have a productive conversation at a later time.

So, always approach with love. You will be surprised what mountains we can move together with love.

Step 3: Listen!

Now that you have connected, LISTEN! Stop talking for a minute and hear them out.

You already know that they have a common love for _____ so you know that they also want what is best. Try and put yourself in their shoes. Try and understand their point of view.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Stephen R. Covey

I did not say, take on their point of view, but at least empathize with it. Truly feel it. And do not be planning your next line of attack. You are no longer listening if you are trying to find all their flaws. Listen as you hope they will listen to you.

Just to be clear, I am speaking to listening, not being steamrolled. I am not advocating for rolling over and saying they are right. But they might be, so be open to it, and don’t feel threatened by their differing opinion. The world is full of them and we cannot grow without them. That is what makes life more fun!

Step 4: Create A Safe Space

My friend, I know you are itching to speak your truth, but wait! Do not start speaking your side until you have established that this is a safe conversation and that they are able to exit at any time without judgement. You have given them control and respect. Honor this.

And why is this Step 4 and not 3? This is very intentional. You have already listened and shown this person respect. Now they will be much more receptive and willing to listen when you establish the safe space. Basically, you are using action over words.

Think about it for a minute. If you are in a conversation where you feel you have control, are you more likely to openly enter into the discomfort? Personally, I will.

But what if they now have more to say? Then go back to Step 3 and listen! Be quick to listen and slow to speak, always! This will keep the conversation constructive.

You are also reducing the likelihood of triggering Fight, Flight, or Freeze (read this article if you would like to know more about the physical and psychological changes that occur). Did you know that it takes on average 20-30 minutes for the body to return to normal after an episode of Fight, Flight, or Freeze? Hard to believe but it is so critically important to understand when entering these divisive conversations. Respect this person enough to notice if they have entered this zone and allow you both to exit the conversation. There will (and should) be other days when you both are in a better mental state to continue a constructive discussion and make progress towards change.

So take a moment to remember your motives. If you wish for real change, create a safe space. Reassure this person that they are safe. You are not here to judge them and that they can end the discussion at any time and continue later. Period. This is love.

No one wishes to be attacked, judged, shamed, bullied.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

So again, if you want to make real change, affirm that they are in control. And honor it.

Step 5: Speak

Have you honestly followed all the steps up until now? Can you whole-heartedly say you have listened? Did you attempt to connect? Are your motives for positive change?

Ok, now, and only now, should you speak. Remember, this person is worth being uncomfortable with it and go from there.

Communication is power. Those who have mastered its effective use can change their own experience of the world and the world’s experience of them. All behavior and feelings find their original roots in some form of communication.

Tony Robbins

But what if the person is not willing to listen to you? My friend, this is the difficult part. And please hear me out, but they probably have not felt listened to. So with love, hear them out again. Listen.

Most people are not used to being listened to and require some reassurance (through action!) that you are listening. So do not be discouraged if they feel the need to repeat themselves. This is encouraging! Your goal here is for them to not shut down the conversation and be open to change. You need to honor that and allow them to feel safe to have a dissenting view. Listen.

I am not advocating to allow this person to steamroll you. If they are being abusive, shut down the conversation. End. It. Now. This is not love and you are doing them no favors by allowing the conversation to continue.

If they just feel the need to reiterate their opinion, listen first and then continue to speak with love. Deep, loving change takes time, so be patient and be open to having more conversations.

My friends, this is how we form a more loving world. This. By embodying love. Being slow to judge. And allowing people the space to grow.

Step 6: Thank them

Say thank you the old fashioned way: send a letter 🙂 These cards from Amazon perfectly encapsulate the gracious spirit. And nothing says you are valued quite like a card.

Show some love and gratitude towards this conversation. You took the time to get uncomfortable together and that deserves some honor! You BOTH were part of making the world a better place so express that! Thank the person for being willing to share and their time. Let them know how much you appreciated it. Tell them what you learned. Invite them to have more conversations. This might be the start of some serious, positive change!

Need some ideas for expressing gratitude?

  • Give them a hug.
  • Text them later to express appreciation.
  • Give them a card.
  • Call them and tell them.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

G.K. Chesterton

Step 7: Thank you

Lastly, thank yourself. My friend, you did it! This is HUGE! You took time to be vulnerable and be part of the change and you need to allow yourself to celebrate by expressing some gratitude. Maybe you want to journal about the encounter (once again, journaling is amazing for your mental health)! Tell a confidante about how you stepped out of your comfort-zone (don’t have one, join our Empowered Community)!. Reward yourself for being the change! We can do this!

My friend, remind yourself that these difficult conversations are worth it. I personally love inspiration in the morning with my coffee 😉

Challenge

So who can you have a tough conversation with? Who can you learn from and be part of the change? Invite them in and show them their worth.

We can make this world a better place, one relationship at a time. Will you join me?

Want to reach out to me. I would be honored to get uncomfortable with you 🙂

Or maybe you want to join the Empowered Community! We would love for you to get uncomfortable with us and be part of the change.

We CAN do this together! One relationship at a time.

Additional Resources

Keeping It Civil: How to Talk Politics Without Letting Things Turn Ugly

Talk Politics Without Fighting

Brown writes, “We need our lives back. It’s time to reclaim the gifts of imperfection—the courage to be real, the compassion we need to love ourselves and others, and the connection that gives true purpose and meaning to life. These are the gifts that bring love, laughter, gratitude, empathy and joy into our lives.”

This book helps learn how to connect with others around you using many of the same steps above. If you are looking for a more in-depth dive, this is the book for you.

Although it says “Work”, this title really leans into the discomfort and tells us to embrace these conversations, not shy away. A great read for anyone who want to guide others in growth.

How do these conversations help us at work/business? This title explores the importance of understanding others and the willingness to change.

This book will help you honor differences and learn more about why it is so critical to be willing to understand them. From the workplace, to clients, to school. This focuses on it all!

Caveats

Turning a blind eye: I am not advocating for silence. Silence means that you do nothing and keep on your merry way when atrocities are being committed. Nope. Don’t do that. Speak up. But you need to still approach from a space of love.

Allowing abuse: Shut. That. Conversation. Down. If it is abuse, you have every right to stop the conversation and walk away. If it is a colleague, you can tell them that you would like to only discuss work related items. This is being the adult in the room. If they cannot handle it, that is on them, not you! Please, do not allow people to abuse you. Please seek additional help (this is the domestic abuse hotline but has advice that can be applied to others) if you must continue to be involved with an abusive person.

One thought on “How to Talk About Politics, Religion, and other Divisive Topics Constructively

  1. I really like the way you analyze your participation in some touchy topics. By evaluating our motives, we spare ourselves the time-consuming replies that sometimes won’t serve our purpose.

    Like

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