by Ginger Philbrick
It seems that my world is more and more contentious. I used to like to have calm discussions about things, especially politics, with others. Now I am shy about bringing the subject up for fear I’ll be met with anger. Rudeness seems to be the norm when I express an opposing opinion. Can you suggest any ways I can let people know I don’t want to argue, just to discuss, without having to explain myself each time?
Not Interested In Fighting, Lively
My first comment is cautionary; when you are at a gathering, do not initiate a discussion of politics or religion. This is age-old advice that is golden.
However, it’s true that there is a time and a place for most everything, and the politics of the day is foremost in media and many minds. So, if you are bursting to express your thoughts, choose the time to do so wisely.
You don’t mention how you begin these conversations or how you respond to an opposing thought. However, I know from my own experience that one of the best ways to escalate blood pressure when discussing a controversial topic is to ignore what my companion is saying and feeling. Not respectfully recognizing that can fan the flame of contention.
Begin by acknowledging the other person has the right to an opinion also:
“I’d like to get your opinion on….
“Have you been concerned about…?”
“What do you think about….?”
“Just for the sake of discussion….”
And, although you may disagree with what is said, keep on affirming his or her right to differ throughout your conversation:
“I see your point, but…”
“I think I understand what you are saying, but…”
“You may be right, but…”
“I see. However, the way I look at the situation is…”
“That’s a good point.”
“What you say is certainly valid, but…”
“That’s interesting. My take on the situation is…”
If you see things are getting heated to an uncomfortable level, the old “Let’s agree to disagree” can end the conversation without bloodshed. I find that although it may not bring the satisfaction of having the other person come around to my way of thinking—a rare occurrence—it works better than erupting with, “Are you crazy?” Such insolence can lead to an invitation to a duel, or even worse, hair pulling, both of which are unattractive, especially in the middle of a social event.
Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.