The Path to Productive Political Conversations

Talking Politics with Uncle Steve
Now that we’ve got a deeper understanding of the basis for political viewpoints and the reason that they are so deeply held, how exactly does that help us conduct more productive political discussions?

Let’s go back to the first post in this series. Do you remember Uncle Steve? He’s funny, smart, compassionate and practical. The problem is that when your discussions with him turn to politics, you end up at each other’s throats. You know that you can learn from each other, even when you don’t agree. So, you’re heading to the family BBQ, you know that Uncle Steve will be there and you know that you will end up talking politics, how can you apply what we’ve been discussing to make that discussion more productive?
Understand The Underlying Moral Foundation
The first step is to identify Uncle Steve’s emphasis within the moral foundations of care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, sanctity. Understand that these moral foundations shape his political views. Then, discern how his moral foundation conflict with your own and remember that you each place value in all these foundations but that you likely weigh them differently.

Focus on the Goal
Ask yourself what your primary goal is in this particular discussion. Are you looking to win? Have a more meaningful conversation? Arrive at a greater shared truth? If you’re primary goal is to win, does Uncle Steve usually admit that you’ve won. What will be the value in winning? Will you be smarter? Will your relationship be better after you’ve ”won”?.

We think it’s clear that you can do better than winning. You can reduce the conflict. Discover deeper truths about the subject at hand. Develop a deeper relationship. These are the wins that really matter.

Set a Path to Productivity
Now that you’ve clarified your goals, verbally acknowledge Uncle Steve’s moral foundations and explain how you agree with them in principle, but that you assign different priorities in this particular issue. Explain your own moral foundations with an understanding Uncle Steve agrees with your foundations in principal.

Point out that there is usually agreement on the goal, i.e. caring for the elderly, protecting our country, etc., but disagreement on how it is achieved.

Never attack the person. It’s counterproductive. And keep in mind that Uncle Steve’s position is very closely tied to his moral foundations, so harshly attacking his position could be viewed as a personal attack.

Look First to Understand and Then to Be Understood
Listen carefully to Uncle Steve’s position and restate it in terms of how you understand his moral foundations. Make sure that he agrees that you’re stating his position correctly. Only after you truly understand his position should you present yours. Finally, look to find common areas of agreement and clarify where you differ.

With an understanding of the moral foundations of political positions and this roadmap, you’re on the path to productive political conversations. You and Uncle Steve will walk out of your BBQ not bigger bellies and stains on your shirts but with a deeper understanding of your respective political views and of each other.