Finding Common Ground In Political Conversations

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It feels like it's getting harder and harder to find areas of shared, consensus agreement when it comes to American politics, or hey, even geopolitics. Polarization has for the past several years been at sky-high levels within the United States, a fact which hasn't been helped by the election of the most divisive (and for so early in his terms, disapproved of) president in modern American history. And yet, when you're actually talking with someone, you might find it important to find some unity somewhere, however small. In that spirit, here are 7 ways to find common political ground regardless of your party affiliation.

These are some tips for how a progressive might engage with conservative circles in a way that's conducive to conversation, at the very least, even if eventual agreement is out of the question. Obviously, some people who lie at the extreme fringes of political thought will always be beyond reaching, and maybe far enough out there that it wouldn't do anyone any good to try. You can probably skip trying to engage with white supremacists, for example.

But to the extent that there are progressives and conservatives whose belief may overlap somewhat in this strange new political era, and you might want to facilitate some more interesting and slightly less combative conversations, here are some tips that might help.

1. Don't Get Heated Or Start Slinging Accusations

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It doesn't matter how undeniably, completely right you are about an issue, and increasingly, it doesn't even matter what the facts might be. When people start political conversations nowadays, they're usually firmly dug-in to one side or another ― almost everyone has done this at some point in their lives, it's just that it all seems more sympathetic and righteous when you agree with the issue at hand.

Making absolutely no judgement about the rightness or wrongness of your position, it's important to take every opportunity to tamp down the heat if you're hoping for an illuminating conversation with someone you strongly disagree with. As hard as it often is, sometimes politeness and restraint matter, even if you find the person's views intensely objectionable in many respects.

2. Ask Them About Their Views And Motivations, Rather Than Assuming

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You might disagree with somebody on policy or ideology, but if you start assuming and asserting what the source of the disagreement is ― insisting somebody only supports a so-called religious freedom law because they're homophobic, for example ― the conversation is going to get iced much faster than if you give someone room to explain themselves in their own words.

Again, this doesn't mean you can't listen and assess that your initial conclusions were on-point, nor does it mean that someone shouldn't be called anti-LGBTQ if they support a policy with profound anti-LGBTQ implications. But for the purpose of actually talking to someone, putting them on immediate defense will be the end of anything insightful.

3. Emphaisze Competence And Proper Functioning of Government In Addition To Policy

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If you're expressing concern or fear about, say, the direction the Trump administration is taking the country, one way to voice that concern getting tied up in the weeds of major policy questions is to center the issue of competence.

After all, even some conservatives and/or Trump-sympathetic moderates out there would likely admit that the new administration has been absolutely drenched in chaos and instability so far, most represented by the botched and judicially rebuked immigration and refugee ban, and the resignation of national security adviser Mike Flynn in the midst of a major and escalating scandal.

4. Speak Earnestly About Your Fears And Concerns

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If you can manage to be both respectful and unassuming, but also very direct, earnest, and beseeching of someone else's basic understanding about your fears and concerns, you might just get to a point where someone will feel a sense of sympathy or empathy with you, if not necessarily your perspective or cause.

This is basically a prerequisite for having a conversation across hard ideological lines that has any hope of changing someone else's perspective, however, so it's something to shoot for if you feel safe being open with someone.

5. Instead Of Bracing For Argument, Just Listen For A While

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If you're starting a conversation with somebody you just know you're going to have huge disagreements with, it's incredibly easy, even without realizing it, to slide into argument mode. You know, the certain mixture of body language, verbal tone, and internal simmering that makes it clear to the other person that they're now in a confrontation. And when confronted, people are more likely to meet force with force, to rise to the challenge and aim for a decisive rebuke.

And this may feel satisfying or give you a charge, but if you're looking for common ground, even with someone you deeply disagree with, it's unbelievably useful to consciously stay out of argument mode, and stay in listening mode instead. Rather than prepping your next response in your head while the other person talks, just listen.

6. Acknowledge The Natural Angst Of Being In The Opposition Party

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Whether you typically favor the Democratic or Republican parties, or especially the Libertarian or Green parties, everyone at some point knows the anguish of your party being "in the wilderness," so to speak. Out of power, no control in the legislature or the executive branch ― it's a helpless-feeling place to be, which naturally gives rise to protest and impassioned opposition.

Now, if you're a progressive, you're almost certainly not going to see any equivalence between the response the GOP had to former president Barack Obama in 2008, and what's now happening towards Trump. But even simply acknowledging the changing political tides, and the challenges posed when you coalition is on the losing end, can be a way to tap into some shared emotions and experiences.

7. Don't Sugarcoat Your Differences, But Don't Burn Everything To The Ground Either

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You might be surprised how well two people with widely conflicting worldviews can get along, so long as those views are out in the open, respectfully argued, and neither of them cross boundaries that are simply too reprehensible for the other (that last part is a big sticking point, obviously). But broadly, if you're willing to engage in good faith with another person who's willing to do the same ― trying this with someone determined to argue in bad faith won't work, and is likely not worth your time ― you might find a mutual, if grudging, respect between the two of you.

There are obviously a lot of ways to approach the search for some shared values or common ground, and these are but a handful. And it's worth noting that you'll often run across people in your life who simply don't merit the trouble ― you only need to spend a few minutes scrolling through various people's Twitter mentions to get some pretty vivid examples. But if you've become fatigued at all by the constant warring and jousting, and you want to try to chat with someone politically opposed to you in a more open way, these should be strong tips to start from.