The 2016 presidential election is fast approaching, and this year’s candidates may be the most divisive in decades. Participating in meaningful discussions while still maintaining relationships can be challenging—especially when even mainstream political parties are divided amongst themselves.
Local media personalities Betsy Singer of ABC 6 News and Julie Jones of Fox Country 102.5 have become especially adept at managing this precarious balancing act. They agree that discussing politics in mixed company is almost always a bad idea and, if possible, should be avoided. When those discussions can’t be avoided, they offer suggestions to help preserve relationships.
1. Keep it out of the office.
Both Jones and Singer refuse to discuss their own political convictions in a professional setting. They explain that a person’s choice of political candidate implies a lot about who that person is, and can also lead to erroneous conclusions about a person overall.
2. Be respectful.
One of the most effective ways of showing respect is by listening, Jones explains. Singer agrees and adds, “Not every conversation requires a response. People may just want to tell you what they think.”
Show others you respect their opinions and ideas by asking about them. “I am always open to learning new things I might not know,” Jones says. “I try to be open to learning from others and find it interesting as to why they favor one party over another.” She elaborates by explaining that one understanding another’s position is often a window into learning what they are passionate about.
4. Check your sarcasm.
Social media seems to bring out the worst in people. The keyboard often creates a disconnect between people, offering a sense of anonymity. This sometimes leads to a sense of confidence when expressing opinions that may be difficult to share face to face.
Singer warns, “Nastiness doesn’t win people to your side, (and) attacking doesn’t win.” Instead, she suggests asking yourself what your goals are. “Do you want people to know what you believe? If you have to try to beat somebody up to get them to understand or believe what you believe, you’ve just done the opposite.”
5. Stand firm.
Don’t be pushed into a conversation you don’t want to have. “Usually, people are very respectful when they realize you’re not going to say anything,” Singer says. But some people continue to push for an answer. In those cases, Jones attempts to redirect the conversation through her keen sense of humor. “I try to use my humor to say ‘not interested,’ yet hopefully give them a smile,” she explains. If they persist, Jones jokes that she’s been known to say, “How about them Vikings? Oh no—you’re a Packers fan, that’s right. Hey, how about some of that coconut cake? You want coffee?” When you refuse to engage, the other party eventually loses interest.
Discussing Politics at Home
Is there ever a venue that is appropriate for discussing politics and this year’s election? Singer and Jones agree that there may be room for private discussions among close friends and family, where the conversations remain respectful and without heated debate. But even in her own home, Singer is careful not to force her political beliefs on her children, instead reminding them of the importance of voting. She advises them that it’s always okay to write the name of your own candidate on the ballot if those offered don’t represent with your convictions.
By December, this election will be over, but what is said today may never be forgotten. Maybe the best advice is to remember the importance of building and maintaining relationships, which may mean avoiding contentious debate entirely.
C.H. Armstrong is a 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in Journalism. Her debut novel, “The Edge of Nowhere,” was released in January and was inspired by her own family’s experiences during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl. For more information, visit charmstrongbooks.com