How To Avoid Awkward Political Conversations

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We recently wrote about how to disagree about politics without ending a friendship — but what should do you if you’d really like to avoid the conversation altogether?

Perhaps you’re talking to a total stranger and engaging in a heated debate might seem like more effort than it’s worth — you just want to make a quick exit. Or your conversation partner is a co-worker who’s unwilling to change their views. Or you’re dealing with an in-law at Christmas and you’re trying desperately not to hate them.

If you’d like to avoid a tense political debate at the office or the dinner table, here are a few simple strategies for tackling the problem of the unrelenting loudmouth.

Segue

When I don’t feel up to it, my tactic with strangers often involves segueing to a subject that’s mostly free of controversy. On a recent red-eye flight, I sat next to someone who very much wanted to engage in a political discussion. When I realised that facts wouldn’t change her mind, I immediately changed the subject to just how terrible flying is. Fortunately, the subject of politics was (momentarily) off the table, despite our major differences.

In a story for the New York Times, our friend Rob Walker provided similar suggestions for workplace disagreements that could apply to any setting you find yourself in. “It might be most effective to keep the request somewhat light: ‘Hey, I hear enough about that stuff on the news, mind if we talk football (or whatever) instead? Or, I don’t know, about our work?’” he wrote.

“... Remember that you’re better off expressing disdain for such talk in general, as opposed to just advocacy of partisan views you dislike.” It’s not complicated — chat about the weather, traffic, any other small talk topic that won’t land you both in heated waters.

Be honest but tactful

If they still won’t let up, CNBC suggests being a little more upfront, particularly if you feel that their views are very much at odds with your own. They suggest expressing something along the lines of “I differ in opinion, but that’s an interesting point you make.”

It’s a succinct way to convey disagreement, without allowing the conversation to continue. (Of course, if it isn’t actually interesting and very much out of line with your views, drop the latter half of that sentence altogether.) If they push for more from you, just make it clear that you have different views without diving into why.

Agree to disagree

If the conversation is already getting heated, then it’s time to be honest and interrupt them as soon as it takes a turn; convey that given your different views, a conversation involving politics won’t end well for either of you. A simple “I don’t want to talk about politics” works, too. On a recent Reddit thread, u/anisaf5 suggests finding an activity to participate in if politics is a frequent topic during your get-togethers.

“So instead of a big dinner where everybody sits around a table and talks to each other, a project or a game or a movie will keep them busier and provide a natural topic of conversation,” they wrote. “Similarly, people tend to become more combative while drinking, minimising the amount of alcohol at this event will probably reduce regrets afterward.”

If you’re in a work setting with someone whose views are that extreme, it might even be worth talking to HR or a supervisor, particularly if you feel uncomfortable with their views. Establish your own boundaries, and if they still cross them, you have every right whether or not to engage in a discussion when it becomes personal. (Here’s our guide on how to get someone to shut up — in case you need it.)


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