Guest Editorial: How to talk politics during the holidays without starting a family feud

By Jay Sullivan
Special to the Herald Times
Meeker | The national media has been encouraging people not to talk politics over the holidays. The reasoning is that we are so divided that political discourse will tear families apart and cause irreconcilable differences. This feeling came home the day after the election when my friends and family and I were in a restaurant discussing the election results when the family at the next table said that they didn’t have to listen to this crap and walked out. Imagine that in Meeker.
When we can no longer talk to one another the only recourse left to us is violence. Violence is no solution. It does not resolve differences it only highlights them. So I would like to offer some thoughts on how we can talk politics, argue and even create better solutions.
Communication at its best is shared meaning. You know what I mean and I know your thoughts as well. Too much political rhetoric stops at name calling. For most of us decision making at its core comes down to an emotional choice. If we start our discussions with emotional triggers we will never get over being pissed off and fail to address the substance of what really matters. So here are seven ways we can talk. These eight things take the heat out of anger and give us all a path to better solutions for all Americans.
1. Identify and agree to the facts. A fact is something that different people with different points of view see as the same. When we agree that you and I see the same thing, that agreement reduces tension. How many times have you listened to people in heated disagreement when one person was talking turkey and another was focused on the fine points of stuffing? Facts help people be objective. How do you see the facts? Are we talking turkey or stuffing over the holidays?
2. Be specific. Generalizations such as all liberals are gun haters doesn’t make for straight shooting. On the other hand, statements such as “Joe is a dead shot. He killed an antelope facing him at 600 yards,” has the necessary who did what when. Now we can argue over the length of your stride as you counted off the yards. What you hear people say and do provides detail and is clear, concise and to the point.
3. Be direct. Address issues head on. This means we have a clear understanding of what is being discussed. When exploring an issue we recognize all sides and points of view. We are flexible. We focus our discussion and avoid sidetracking. We explore an issue until resolution is clear.
4. Be open and honest. Where you really stand on an issue requires honesty. You have to state your position. Saying what you really believe lets people know where you stand. As new information emerges you are entitled to change your mind. Lying creates distrust because it produces uncertainty. Productive change happens when people are honest with one another. This is where better solutions are created. Everybody changes their mind a little bit creating a new reality.
5. Avoid judgments and assumptions. Saying you are right or wrong, good or bad is a judgment. A judgment implies that a person is measured against a standard that they may not know about or agree with. An assumption implies that you think like I think or that you would do what I would do. Both judgments and assumptions intensify emotional commitments.
6. Focus on process. Process is “how” things get done. “What” defines the thing to be done. Narrow views limit creative opportunity. Switching back and forth between “what” and “how” expands opportunity and breaks deadlocks.
7. Time feedback for receptivity. You can’t talk turkey when the person you’re speaking with is focused on prime rib. Timing feedback for receptivity means that you are a strategist. You anticipate and prepare to guide the discussion. You give others time to talk. And you seek understanding first. You work on timing your words to coincide with other’s thoughts.
8. No name calling. This is the ultimate emotional trigger. Of course, if you follow steps 1-7 there is no time for name calling. Chances are you wouldn’t even think of referencing canine heritage in the offspring of your opponents. You would be too busy solving problems.