The Etiquette of Talking Politics

A 2014 Pew Research poll measured that 55% of respondents enjoyed talking about politics some or a lot. In an election year it’s inevitable then that you’ll be involved in a political conversation of some kind, whether you enjoy it or not. In addition to spirited discussion, however, this election season we’ve also seen skirmishes at rallies and organized attempts at silencing political expression. Clearly, a mannerly memo is in order.

Know when to abstain

When meeting new people, do not bring up politics. Those still forming an opinion about us are prone to putting us in a box. A liberal may be labeled as a member of the socialist vegan brigade, a conservative a certified “right wingin’ bitter clingin’ proud clinger”. Don’t let your view overshadow the true you! You'll be much less likely to alienate someone with your politics once they get to know you better. Work is another place where politics never belong. The risk is too high – saying the wrong thing could cost you more than an unpleasant evening. Causing a rift with someone you have to work with and see everyday is not worth it. Lastly, a two-drink maximum is suggested when talking politics; you may still get shouted down but at least you won’t get beaten up.

Teach, don’t preach

Once you’ve decided to engage in political conversation, decide whether your goal is to teach or to preach. Most of the time, it should be to teach. During election season, those who do not closely follow politics but who still plan to vote (as everyone should!) can benefit from informative discourse. Be a diplomat, not a politician. Provide the facts and let others form their own conclusions without creating conflict.

State your sources

Civility in political discussion requires sticking to objective facts. Think of a few current news items you can share about each candidate. Any statement you make should include the source of the information and should be devoid of personal attacks. Respond to arguments the same way – tell others what you heard, saw, or read about their candidate, NOT what you “think”!

Set them straight, investigate!

Think someone else is breaking that last rule? There is one very easy way to check – and it doesn’t involve offending anyone! Just like in any other conversation, always listen and ask questions. Misunderstandings lead to conflict, and both are common in political conversations because we’re too busy thinking of a comeback instead of listening to what the other is saying. Asking probing questions in a non-skeptical way shows genuine interest and respect. In addition, it will quickly expose anyone who has been quite liberal with the truth!

Plead the 5th

The 5th Amendment is an etiquette expert's favorite. Remember you are never required to carry on a political conversation. Change the subject by using  humor, an “exit line” (such as “I’d rather not talk politics” or “I’m not a political person”), or by complimenting your friend on something other than his or her political views. To break up an argument among other members of your group, remark how great it is to hear different viewpoints and thank everyone before transitioning to another subject. 

Respectfully opine online

While your online friend count may convince you otherwise, the internet can be an unfriendly place. Even a seemingly inoffensive post could lead to a heated argument with several people. Online arguments should end as quickly as they begin – stick to one rebuttal before suggesting to discuss the topic the next time you meet the person. Most importantly, when faced with a tempting post scroll, don’t troll! If you find you are scrolling through much of your feed, consider muting some of your contacts.