Do you get angry and frustrated when talking politics? It can be hard not to, especially when your political opinion is dismissed before the conversation starts. Learn how to navigate charged political conversations by understanding and utilizing your anger productively.
First, let’s explore anger as an emotion. Anger is a signal from our instinctive, emotional brain, alerting us when we’ve felt wronged or when an injustice has occurred. Sometimes, anger can help spur us to productive action. It’s a motivating force, helping us to change unfair circumstances and pursue fair treatment. On the other hand, when we’re unable to use our anger productively, it can eat away at us.
In political conversations, when neither side plans to change their stance, it feels like any anger or objection is bound to be unproductive. And this frustration, turned inward, only amplifies the initial root of your anger.
The anger you feel when you engage with others from another political party is valid. Political stances may make up part of our identity. They feel extremely personal and important, and disagreements about politics may impact us as threats to our personal safety.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that 8 out of 10 Americans felt that the other political party differed in fundamental core political values. 9 out of 10 individuals on both sides also felt “a victory by the other party would lead to lasting harm in the country.” With these kinds of threatening feelings, it’s only natural that political discourse so often leads to anger and frustration.
Both parties to charged political conversations leave with a bitter taste in their mouths. But while the discomfort after these disagreements can make it appealing to avoid political conversation altogether, bridging the political aisle is possible. Below, we build up to ideas for how to stay calm during charged conversations.
As constructive as anger can be, it can also be extremely destructive to conversations and relationships. Anger can make us lose sight of our goals and values, and yelling and screaming only further alienate the person we’re debating.
Political anger can be a vicious cycle that only serves to reinforce unhealthy relationship dynamics. Learning to listen to your anger but not let it consume you is a life skill — and especially in political contexts, a communication skill.
When you’re starting to feel angry in a political conversation, consider the tips below, to stay calm and get your message across.
Anger, and any emotion for that matter, is accompanied by a physical reaction. You may start to sweat, feel your heart rate increase, and experience an increase in blood pressure. You may begin to experience tunnel vision, and lose sight of the goal of the conversation. These physical responses may then in turn feed your emotions, creating a positive feedback loop of frustration.
Take a deep breath, fully using your diaphragm, even when you’re feeling calm. This will help you tune into your body, and how your body feels when you’re calm. The more you practice this exercise when you’re calm, the more effective it will be when you’re angry.
While you can’t control what others believe or say, you can control yourself. Acknowledge that much of what others do is out of your control, and that while getting angry over it is valid, it may not be something you can fix.
Instead of pouring your energy and time into an unproductive conversation, try investing in yourself. This can look like journaling, volunteering for a cause you care about, or even exercising to manage frustration.
Often, many differences in political opinion are focused on our core values — things we just can’t let go. We want to try and change this person’s opinion, but we have to understand our limits in the present moment.
Forcibly escalating the conversation to try and convince another person of your opinion will often result in both parties becoming even more polarized in their beliefs. Instead, having small, calm conversations are more effective in getting others to see your point of view.
When others disagree with our opinions and call us stupid, we may feel personally attacked. This happens more easily when we depend on others’ opinions to validate our own beliefs.
Self-validation is a good way to build tolerance for the differences in opinions, because we learn that others’ opinions don’t devalue our own. You can practice validating your emotions by examining your own values, practicing what you preach, and being honest with yourself.
Tolerance enables us to interact and accept individuals whose views differ from our own. While practicing tolerance may be challenging, people with high tolerance are less threatened by differing opinions. This enables them to navigate frustrating conversations with more ease.
Building tolerance leads to building acceptance of differences, especially the ones you can’t change. In this way, you can avoid getting angry altogether, because you’ve changed your mindset on differing opinions.
A productive conversation is only possible when both parties are willing to communicate. Anger from another person can make us feel threatened, and can often be scary when they begin to express their anger in unhealthy ways. When you feel a situation escalating and need to get out, consider trying these steps:
When someone is raising their voice, it’s tempting to raise your voice back at them. However, this tends to snowball the conversation until both parties are screaming at each other. Instead, try to stay calm, thereby anchoring the conversation.
There is no reason for someone to call you names, act aggressively, or be disrespectful, even during a disagreement while talking politics. When you feel that someone is crossing your boundaries, don’t hesitate to put your foot down. This can look like asking to end the conversation, asking them to not insult you, or asking them to lower their voice if they’re yelling.
Sometimes, a conversation can escalate beyond either party’s control. At this point, no actual progress is made, and all the anger involved feeds itself. In these cases, it’s okay to leave the conversation and come back to it later when everyone is calm.