Talking to someone who disagrees with you about politics can feel like a game of tennis — a game that ends with both players shouting, thinking horrible things about each other, and vowing to never step onto that court again.
But maybe we’re going about it all wrong.
In a Medium post, Karin Tamerius argues that our standard methods of persuasion often make things worse. “We are so terrified about where the nation is headed that our first instincts are to close up, push back, and strike out at our friends, family, and neighbors rather than reach forward and pull them closer in a way that can actually change hearts and minds,” she writes.
Tamerius offers a few strategies for engaging in more productive dialogue. My favorite is something called “motivational interviewing.” Instead of telling a person all the reasons why they shouldn’t vote for our current president, let them come up with those reasons themselves—by asking the right questions. This approach, as Tamerius writes, “takes advantage of the inconsistency and ambivalence of voters’ political attitudes and beliefs.”
Most Trump supporters, for example, aren’t particularly happy with his tweeting, treatment of women, or the way he’s handled the pandemic even though they plan to vote for him. To shift their evaluations of the president, we need to highlight these contradictions and encourage them to get in touch with their more negative thoughts and feelings by asking questions.
One good approach is to ask the following:
How would you describe the ideal president?
How close do you think President Trump comes to that ideal?
In what ways does he fall short of your ideal president?
You might be surprised at what they discover. They might be, too.