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Friends and Politics

Can friends and politics mix?

Q:  Now that the presidential primaries have begun, my friend Robert, a very conservative Republican and a big Rush Limbaugh fan, continually pushes his political agenda on me. I don’t mind discussing politics but he ridicules me whenever I disagree with his views, which I believe aren’t balanced or even-handed. Do you have any suggestions for handling his aggressiveness?

A:  Old adages stay around because they usually make sense. The pertinent one here is “Never discuss politics or religion with friends.”  Of course, if you and Robert belonged to the same party, such a discussion would not be a problem because neither of your cherished core beliefs about politics would be under fire.  

However, because your political beliefs clash with Robert’s, it generates anger in him. It’s a sad fact that some people simply cannot handle being disagreed with, and out of frustration, they resort to personal attacks rather than choosing to agree to disagree. 

I suggest the following approach for handling this problem.  First, step back and make a determination about your friend by asking yourself, “Is Robert someone I can openly communicate with on a feeling level or is he someone I have to manage?”  That is, if you think your friend is capable of being receptive to your feelings, then you have the option to tell him how difficult it is to have a respectful and friendly conversation when he ridicules your political ideas.  Further, you can suggest to him that you would appreciate if the two of you, in the future, could gracefully “agree to disagree” about political topics.  

On the other hand, if upon reflection, you determine that Robert is someone who can’t or won’t listen to such a genuine attempt to share your feelings, then I suggest that you manage him.  By definition, “managing” someone means taking control of a situation in an assertive manner.  You do this by telling him you’ve decided you no longer want to discuss politics with him.  Explain that you’ve found the discussions lead to hard feelings and you value the friendship too much to put it at risk.  

If your friend resists or tries to ignore this rule, you’ll need to be assertive.  For example, if he broaches a political topic at a later point, you can counter it by smiling good-naturedly, raising your hand in a “stop” position, and saying, “Whoa!  Robert, seriously, I really don’t want to talk politics. All it will do is lead to bad feelings.” 

If you’re consistently assertive in this manner, your friend will soon learn the new rule and the problem should disappear.  Good luck and thanks for the interesting and important question.

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