Listening Politically: 3 Tips to Understanding

We’ve all been there…

Lotus Heart Mindfulness Meditation - Artist, Eiko Ojala

That horrible moment when you realize you’ve gotten yourself into a political conversation with someone you KNOW has different views than you.

It’s not just that, sometimes it’s hard to even turn on the news to try and educate yourself on current events. Who in their right mind wants to read about another school shooting or similarly horrible event?

From a University of Canberra study, if you’re a Democrat in the U.S. you’re likely to avoid watching the news because you find it negatively affects your mood, while those who are Republicans may believe the news to be unreliable.

In a survey published by Axiom, they found that 89% of Republicans believed Trump to be a more reliable informational source than CNN, while 91% of Democrats felt the opposite. This clear divide on who people believe and trust is obviously going to make for tense political discussions in the future where people believe they are getting reliable information from only a few sources without double checking the facts.

Here are some tips to avoid tuning out the opposing side, and maybe learning something in the meantime.

What is empathetic listening?

Empathetic listening can help make each person in the conversation feel heard and understood, while allowing good points to be brought up and examined in a thorough way.

Empathetic listening differs from regular listening because the emotional stakes are higher, which, when talking about politics can be the case, especially when it comes to things like human rights, or financial situations.

This style of listening challenges the conversational partners:

  • to not judge what the other person it thinking or feeling,

  • to accept whatever emotional response the person has as valid,

  • and to allow the emotions to run their course without rushing them or suppressing them.

Actually, it’s pretty much the tenets of mindfulness used to better hear another person and to diffuse a potentially strong emotional response.

So, the next time you are having a political conversation with someone and they start to get heated or upset, verbally acknowledge that their emotions are understandable and valid.

Remind them that human emotion is important and not something to suppress.

Empathetic Listening Tips!

Often political conversations can feel like a fight rather than a discussion, Dr. Jennifer Kunst points to some reasons why.

When we discuss things with someone, especially over something as central to opinions as politics, we tend to try to guard ourselves from feeling inferior or feeling wrong by “splitting,” i.e. the practice of placing ourselves into an “us v. them” mindset.

This can be particularly detrimental to the progress of the conversation since you begin to think of yourself as “right” and the other person as “wrong,” which brings any productive conversation to a screeching halt.

Everyone wants to be right, even to the detriment of a conversation, yet very few people have done the extensive research required to KNOW what they are saying is true and verifiable.

In fact, in the same poll by Axiom, 33% of Republicans reported that they only got their information from FOX News, and it’s not just Republicans who don’t fact check!

So, what can you do to better converse about tricky topics?

  1. If a combative conversation starts and emotions begin to rise, acknowledge that person’s right to feel how they feel and don’t judge them for it.

  2. Let your conversational partner finish their thought. Regardless of how badly you want to interrupt or correct, doing so creates a tone of disrespect. This can turn your rational discussion into a fight without a thought.

  3. Fact check your points and take strides to check your biases. Don’t get your information from just one source, double or triple check from sources that are reliable and nonpartisan.

Treating yourself with empathy and learning the tenets of mindfulness could be the beginning of understanding others better. Check out the services I provide!

From my home studio in Tampa Bay I offer yoga and meditation classes (both personal and corporate), as well as workshops for MBSR.

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