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How to Have a Productive Political Discussion

Updated: Jun 24

by Izzy Kalman (May 2003)

It’s often said that if you want someone to remain your friend, don’t discuss politics or religion. It’s good advice. The problem is that when the country is in a critical situation, people naturally discuss politics more often. Like with the situation in Iraq.

If you observe people having a political discussion – and this happens even in professional venues like radio and TV programs – you will usually find people with opposing views getting mad at each other, treating each other like enemies, and insulting each other’s intelligence. And nothing ever gets accomplished. They each try frantically to prove that the other is wrong, to no avail. Each side ends up having the same ideas they began with.

This is a real shame, especially in a country that is founded on free speech, the idea that every citizen is entitled to have and express his political ideas without this turning us into enemies. And it is especially tragic when differing political views destroy the relationship between a married couple.

It is important that people living in a democracy be informed about the functioning of the government and form intelligent opinions. The fact that the citizenry is free to hold a variety of divergent political views makes the country stronger and richer. But it’s not good that citizens treat each other like enemies because they hold different beliefs about how the government should operate. This makes us all weaker.

I would therefore like to teach you how to have political discussions and still remain good friends. These guidelines are effortless. They only require a change in attitude.

1. Your partner in discussion is your friend. – Tell yourself that the only reason the other person is telling you his opposing views, regardless how outrageous or antagonistic they may be, is that he loves you and cares about you. You may think that if the country follows his policies, we will be headed for ruin. From his point of view, if we follow your policy, we will be headed for ruin. Who is to say that you are right and he is wrong? He is as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours. So instead of being mad at him for his views, thank him for caring about you so much.

2. It doesn’t matter who is right. – When we have a political discussion, we feel like the future of the world depends upon the outcome. That’s why we argue so passionately that it seems we are ready to kill each other.

Face it, we are not so important. The President is not tuned in to or conversation. Neither is the Congress or the Senate. The government’s actions will not be determined by the person who wins our debate. So relax. Our political arguments serve no purpose other than our own entertainment and enlightenment.

3. See the discussion as an opportunity to learn – The natural thing in a political discussion is to try to prove to the other person that we are right and he is wrong. And the harder we try to convince him, the harder he tries to convince us.

This approach is a mistake. It only turns us into enemies. We also end up having added absolutely nothing to our knowledge because we were only concerned with the views we already have.

The right thing to do is to see every discussion as an opportunity to learn from the other person. Tell yourself that all you care about is understanding the way the other person sees the issue. Ask him questions to clarify why he thinks the way he does, and even if you find yourself disagreeing, don’t fall into the trap of trying to show him why he is wrong. He will just try harder to prove he’s right and you’re wrong. Don’t worry – you don’t have to end up agreeing with him if you don’t want to.

If your only concern is to learn the other person’s point of view, you know what will happen? He will like you better and respect you more. And as an additional bonus, he will start showing genuine interest in your views because you showed genuine interest in his views! He will want to learn from you because you were interested in learning from him.

So the next time you face someone with a different point of view, try this approach. You’ll like it!

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