Updated January 2024

Communication tips for political conversations

Folks around my hometown joke that I teethed on a ballot box. My parents, you see, were very politically active and got their kiddos involved early and often in the pursuit of civic duty. They taught me about communicating constructively and respectfully with folks from the other side. So here's my advice for navigating campaign season (and, if I'm honest, when ISN'T it campaign season anymore?).

Debate prep

Develop talking points. Know what's important to you and establish some talking points that explain and support those views. Then anticipate the other person's objections and questions and come up with some talking points to address those, too. Make sure your ideas are realistic, reasonable and possible. Check out the Key Message Architecture.

Make it personal. To you! Your real-life experience of climate change or discrimination or potholes is far more engaging -- and effective -- than a raft of data and abstract ideas. Learn the golden ratio of data to details.

Aim for connection, not change. If you go in with the goal of changing the other person’s point of view, you’re prone to taking the wrong posture and tone. Make your goal opening their eyes to your point of view – and vice versa. Get a quick tip to improve persuasion.

Rules of engagement

Agree to disagree. Object to the politics, not to the person. Just because you don’t see eye to eye doesn’t mean you should indict the other person. If you can’t find common ground on the issue(s), at least you can agree that you don’t agree!

Look for common ground. Instead of focusing on what you don’t agree on, dig deeper to find the larger issues where you do agree. Strive to achieve shared gains, or at least minimize shared losses. This helps you find similarities in core values – and gives you an opportunity to work together in service of those. Or you’ll realize there’s no common ground and move on.

Be respectful. No matter how passionate you are -- or how wrong you think they are -- try not to raise your voice, resort to name-calling or engage in other go-low tactics.  That said, there are times when emotion -- including anger -- is warranted and effective. The trick for you is to know what's required when.

Step away from the ride. If things start to escalate – in a specific conversation or the run-up to an election -- consider taking a break.

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