Wellness Matters

Tempted to Unfriend People? 10 tips for Surviving This Political Season

July 22, 2016

Your co-worker is awesome. He’s your go-to guy when you need help. But he supports that candidate.

You’re still close to your childhood friend who helped you survive seventh grade. The two of you have many things in common. Politics is not one of them.

It happens every four years. The ongoing political rancor in our country reaches a peak in the months before the presidential election. Discussions about candidates and hot-button issues fill our airways, emails, offices and living rooms. They can divide people who respect and care about each other.

If the buildup to this year’s election has been on a slow simmer the past few months, expect a rapid boil until Nov. 8. How do we survive and keep our relationships intact? Here are 10 tips.

  1. Look in the mirror. Much of the time, we unknowingly set the stage for conflict. We may think a political joke or offhand comment is harmless, but others see it as an opportunity to strike back and defend their position. Pay attention to your words and try to catch yourself before bringing up topics that others may find uncomfortable or offensive.
  2. Accept that it’s unlikely you’ll change anyone’s mind. You believe if people only had the facts, they’d see it your way. They probably already know what you’re going to tell them. Besides, political choices are often based on emotion, not facts. If you think sharing the latest revelation about a candidate will change anyone’s mind, don’t hold your breath.
  3. Tone it down at work. It’s almost never a good idea to start a political discussion at work unless you’re with friends who share your viewpoint. You could alienate many co-workers by talking about issues and candidates when you don’t know where they stand. Work is not the place to stand on your soapbox.
  4. If you’re a manager, insist on civility. Anyone in a position of authority has a responsibility to respect diversity — and that includes people’s political views. Remember, our country was built on diversity and respect for differing opinions. Your manager should have zero tolerance for anyone who is disrespectful to others and their beliefs.
  5. Consider limiting social media. We can’t control what others tweet or post on Facebook. Decide in advance how you’ll handle it when friends show their allegiance to a candidate you detest. It’s far easier to criticize or be hostile to someone on Facebook than in person, but don’t give in to the vitriol. You don’t want to start or participate in a Facebook war. Consider taking a break from social media until after the election, or block the Facebook news feeds and tweets of people whose political comments raise your blood pressure.
  6. You have a right to your opinion — and so does everyone else. People have differing opinions about everything from Beyonce to broccoli, and that’s good. If we respect each other for our differences and recognize the value in these differences, many of our problems — political and otherwise — would disappear. Accept it when your parents, spouse, best friend or boss feel passionate about the election, but in a different way from you. Appreciate their right to express a differing point of view. Model tolerance and be willing to speak up when the same respect is not reciprocated.
  7. Put your need to be right on hiatus. Yes, it’s hard, because you know you’re right. We all need to feel validated, or we’re compelled to show others the “right way.” But pushing your political agenda creates a hostile environment, and the chances for a constructive conversation evaporate.
  8. You don’t have to take it anymore. People often feel they have to stay silent regardless of how upset they are about the tone or content of what’s being said. If you respectfully let others know when you feel offended or personally attacked, most people will retreat.
  9. Stay calm and have an exit strategy. If your appeal for civility is ignored, try to keep your emotions in check. Then leave the conversation quietly and without fanfare. You need to ask yourself if it’s worth sacrificing a relationship or your reputation.
  10. Hang on. The election will be over in a few months.
Don’t get too excited for Election Day to come and go. That just means those holiday conversations with the relatives about religion are right around the corner.

About the Author

David Gutterman, PhD is a Psychologist and Clinical Director at LeBauer Behavioral Medicine 


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