Tips for better conversations across political divides

An American flag hangs on a barn in Oconomowoc, Wis., Nov. 6, 2018.  (Tim Gruber/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)
An American flag hangs on a barn in Oconomowoc, Wis., Nov. 6, 2018. (Tim Gruber/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)Tim Gruber/The New York Times

Better Angels, a national group promoting conversations between Republicans and Democrats, has pointers for anyone hoping to facilitate such a conversation on their own. These have been taken from the Better Angels website, moderator Kim Martinson, and published reports.

The recommendations:

  • Tell your point of view only to someone who wants to hear it.
  • Ask permission to ask questions.
  • Admit your own political position.
  • Offer something critical of your own side and something positive about the other side (“I think my party can come across like …”).
  • Don’t try to win a debate. The No. 1 goal is to listen. If you simply listen, the person giving opinions will feel gratified and relieved.
  • Beware of reciting facts. The other side will have its own facts.
  • Use “I” statements such as “This is how I see it” more than statements of fact, i.e., “This is how it is.”
  • Timing is critical. Don’t talk to someone after a tirade. Don’t talk with people who have been drinking.
  • Practice the conversations one-on-one. “Group conversations are harder,” said Martinson.
  • Do not use social media. Face-to-face conversations are best for bridging divides.
  • Repeat the person’s point, paraphrasing.
  • Ask questions of understanding, i.e., “Help me understand…” or “I’m curious about …”
  • Acknowledge areas of agreement when you see them.
  • Temper disagreements by signaling first that your perspective is very different (“This one is close to home for me and I have very strong feelings about …”).
  • Instead of reinforcing differences, agree to disagree in some cases.