If politics are part of a discussion, stress, anxiety, and unhappiness spike. A May 2 Gallup poll
, revealed a starting statistic:
only 16% of Americans were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time.
However, the reason for individual unhappiness varies as part of the country believes we are unhappy for one reason and the other group believes it is for a different reason—even when discussing the same topic.
When I moved to Washington, DC, after college, it soon became apparent to me that most Americans want similar outcomes. In general, we care about our jobs, communities, and families. We want our kids to be educated, safe, and have access to basic goods which are affordable.
Polls may point to specific issues like crime and inflation which drive uncertainty and increase anxiety; however, Americans don’t share the same opinions as to what is the underlying cause of those challenges. And that is where our dinner table conversations break down.
Ronald Reagan said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” Those of us who worked in his administration refer to it as the 80/20 rule.
However, as political conversation became more acrimonious, I restated it as 60/40 Rule: if you agree with someone 60 percent of the time, trust that you can agree to set aside the 40 percent you disagree with and find a path forward. Focus on the areas where you agree today and place issues you disagree on in a parking lot for future discussion. Most importantly, don’t let the disagreement ruin a friendship with someone you care about and who cares about you.
The big question is how to manage difficult conversations especially when headlines drive us into our proverbial corners and social media arguments erupt daily? Over the years, I have determined that there are some basic steps to follow that better help us moderate our discussions and find opportunities on which to agree.
First, if you know your friends share different opinions, don’t expect to use Facebook as your bully pulpit and then enjoy an open dialogue over coffee or drinks. In his Forbes article, Has Social Media Ruined the Idea of Friendship
, Ethicist Ira Bedzow warns that “online communities are replacing familial and communal relationships. These online communities remove the ability for people with different views and varying life stories to find commonality based on a shared life.” It's time to prioritize who is most important to you—the people who always agree with you on social media or the neighbor, friend or family member that helps you with a drive to the doctor or emergency childcare.
Second, agree to hear someone else’s point of view. Better yet, spend the time listening to them and understand what they care about. Reframe the conversation and see it from the other person’s perspective. Acknowledge the impact a change in public policy might have on their life or the life of someone that is important to them.
Third, identify and agree on the problem you wish to discuss. Utilize process driven discussion to come find a place where you both can agree. List the causes for the problem and ways that problem can be solved. Recognize that initially you will articulate very different approaches, and that is okay. In fact, a healthy acknowledgement of diverse opinions shows you value the person with whom you are speaking.
Fourth, carve out the approaches that both of you can accept and put the others aside. It is rare that you will change someone’s belief structure as our beliefs are derived from culture, education, and a variety of other factors. So, focus on the conversation paths which you can both embrace without feeling you have compromised your principles.
Finally, walk away from the conversation as friends, not adversaries. You can’t solve the world’s problems over dinner, but you may leave with a greater appreciation for stimulating conversation.