Talking about Politics Constructively in 2020

In 2020, talking about politics brings about a new level of angst and has, for most of us, become both more personal and more challenging than maybe ever in our lifetimes.

With the unofficial end of summer on us and the fall election season underway, it’s becoming more difficult to avoid talking about politics either online or in person — because it’s all over. With most of us socially distant and connecting via a screen rather than in person, hard conversations are even harder. It’s a uniquely difficult communications challenge.

For many of us politics have become deeply personal. It goes directly to our own sense of identity. Debates about politics aren’t just about issues — they are now almost always about character, values, and our understanding of both independence and community. In the United States, we live in deeply polarized country, and indeed the same is true in other countries around the world — so a casual debate can quickly spiral into a full fledged argument, even if both people love each other or set out to be respectful.

In fact, in late 2019, a Pew survey found that nearly half of all Americans have stopped talking about politics with someone as a result of something they said, either in person or online.

But we are in a time when we need to talk more, and listen a lot more. How do you talk about issues with people you fundamentally disagree with?

Here are some tips:

I like to think about this in two buckets: before the conversations and during the conversations.


  • HONEST: Be honest with yourself about your intention. Don’t start by intending to educate or change someone’s mind. Neurological research shows us that changing people’s minds — including our own — is harder than we think, so likely will only lead you to feel more frustrated and the conversation break down faster. These conversations are rarely zero-sum (I win, you lose).


  • RESPECT: Focusing on coming from a place of respect — beyond just tolerance is important. Respect means: taking turns, listening, asking questions, and allowing people to respond to you and have equal time to share their views. It means not calling names, interrupting and discounting ideas. It DOES mean finding commonalities early on — around values, intent, goals or emotions.

I’d love to hear what you think, and what’s working for you.

64 Days Until the Election in the US. Register and make a plan to vote in advance.

Communications and culture leader, author, certified coach, lawyer, yoga teacher.

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