Q: Please list three tips for keeping conversations neutral when politics come up on a date?
A: Actually, your goal shouldn’t be to keep the conversation neutral, but to keep it respectful. You’ll gain more respect from others if you have an opinion you can support respectfully, whether they agree or not, than if—for trying to appear neutral—you come across as wishy-washy or uninformed. The keywords here are “support respectfully.”
Here are three tips to insure you come across as knowledgeable but, at the same time likable, while keeping it respectful.
1. Start by asking yourself why you’re having the conversation.
There are only three valid reasons why you’d want to discuss politics with a person you are considering as a potential mate. One, because you just want to have a respectful intellectually stimulating exchange of ideas. Two, because you are evaluating the other person, and a differing view is a deal breaker. Three, because based on your date’s profile you already know you two have similar views, and you want to build on the commonalities to create a connection.
If you haven’t asked yourself why you want to have the conversation, do it before engaging. And if the answer is not one of the above three, then do not have it. Not good. Having a conversation just to impress the other person, for instance, is a bad idea. If you want your date to like you, let him or her impress you rather than the other way around.
It is also okay to ask your date why he wants to have the conversation, if it is him who came up with the idea. His answer (or the lack of one) will already give you valuable insight. If you perceive that he is more interested in proving he’s right and whoever disagrees is wrong, then choose to talk about something else instead. Or choose to end your date sooner than you had anticipated.
2. Avoid being judgmental.
Recognizing differences in opinion is not the same as judging differences in opinion. Recognizing means that you acknowledge differing points of view, and you accept them as equally valid and deserving of respect. In contrast, judging means that you consider your opinion better (or superior) than the other person’s opinion. How do you know if you’re being judgmental? Well, if you catch yourself using negative adjectives towards your date, his beliefs, or his opinions (“You are wrong!,” “I can’t believe you think that!,” or “No intelligent person would agree with that”) then you’re being judgmental, and that may be preventing you from learning from others . . . or from finding love! So start working on being more accepting of people who are not like you. Start listening more than talking. And start recognizing that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This will only bring benefits to many area s of your life.
3. Have an exit line ready.
This advice is adapted from my book on difficult conversations. The Oxford dictionary definition of an exit line is, “A line spoken by an actor immediately before leaving the stage.” That’s where the name comes from.
Whether you decide to talk about politics, religion, sex, or any controversial issue or not, having an exit line is a fabulous communication strategy everyone can benefit from. An exit line allows you to leave a conversation gracefully. Whether you want to leave it because you’re bored, because you sense it may escalate into conflict, or because of any other reason, your exit line will come in handy.
You must have it memorized and well-rehearsed (like a stage performer) so that when necessary, you can deliver it automatically and without thinking. And then you leave the stage (or the conversation).
This is one of the exit lines I can deliver with my eyes closed, but remember to make your own: one that fits your style.
It has three parts:
1. I hear you <insert here the other person’s name>.
2. I need some time to think about what you’ve said.
3. How about we resume this conversation some other time? (With a smile)
What makes an exit line effective is your ability to use it before a conflict escalates.
Q: Is it ever okay to discuss politics on a date?
A: Absolutely, as long as it is for any of the three valid reasons stated above. If having differing views is a deal breaker for you, you’d better initiate the conversation sooner rather than later. You want to be efficient when evaluating potential mates, because you don’t want to spend months dating someone who is not a good match instead of spending that time with someone who is.
Ask yourself, when evaluating a potential mate, how important it is to you that the person shares (a) your level of interest in politics, and (b) your ideology? A few years ago I told a potential boyfriend (who was incredible attractive!) “If you feel about Sarah Palin the exact opposite than I do then we may not be a match.” To me his stance was much more than just a political opinion: it spoke deeply about his values, his beliefs, and even his decision making. This was (and still is) an intelligent man, so he replied, “Before I answer, let me document better. At this point I don’t know much about her. If you have good articles or books to share, send them my way!” I loved his open mindedness and his respect for my ideas.
Caution: If a similar ideology is important to you, let the other person speak first. Otherwise someone who’s not too honest may just say an insincere, “I think exactly the same!” just to get your approval or interest.
Q: How do you tell someone that you are on a date with that you don’t want to talk about politics?
A: Use the ACT technique to decline any conversation you’re not ready (or willing) to have, while at the same time you show you’re not blocking the communication between the two of you.
A is for Acknowledge—acknowledge the other person’s interest or desire to talk about that topic. Do not dismiss them or make them feel bad for wanting to talk about it.
C is for Circumstances—without being apologetic (there’s nothing to apologize for!) give them a brief reason why you don’t want to to talk about it.
T is for Topic—propose another topic you can talk about. Pick one that’s not controversial.
Here’s an example:
(A: Acknowledge) Joe, I find politics a very interesting topic. It seems you’re well informed, that’s great!
(C: Circumstances) However, I’d rather talk about something else, just because politics is a personal and controversial topic, and I prefer to leave those for when we know each other better.
(T: Topic) How about we talk about your upcoming trip to Milan with your kids instead? I’d love to hear about it!
Keep it simple, quick, and use a pleasant tone. Don’t make a big deal out of this. It’s not.
Sofia Santiago, MBA, PMP
Best-Selling Author, Speaker, Communication Expert