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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.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.


Comment from barry
Time: September 11, 2007, 9:59 pm

I have also found “avoidance” as a way to deal with this situation. If people disagree, sometimes it is easier to change the subject or be quiet as opposed to engaging in a potentially adversarial conversation. the approaches outlined are effective if changing the subject do not work effectively

Comment from Laura
Time: September 13, 2007, 11:30 am

I have been in this same situation before. I was at a social gathering and walked into a room where the topic was politics. I politely excused myself and said I forgot something and never went back in that room. People will always have their own personal opinions and yours isn’t important on the topic of politics or religion. I love this site. I have found some great tips and some great answers to some questions I had. I will definetely be back to see what Dr. C will post next.

Comment from Patty
Time: September 13, 2007, 4:03 pm

What a touchy situation this is. I find that I’m more comfortable with people who have similar political views. Lots of great advice. Dr. C “I’ll be back”!

Comment from Christine
Time: September 13, 2007, 7:57 pm

Wise and timely. I find the site a delight and will be back – very practical and user friendly advice throughout.

Comment from Bruno
Time: September 14, 2007, 2:24 pm

I think it might be possible , for “real” friends ,to calmly talk about politics from opposite or different positions , as long as respect brings them to set forth their experience without judgement of the counterpart but with the curiosity for a different thought process.<br />
I’d rather take some risk but put it right there; to me friendship is an absolute value and cannot depend on anything but itself ; I understand this is a personal position and that one can also grow into friendship as a result of a series of communications with the “other” as much as I believe that a deep friendship , the one that is absolutely independent from time , circumstances, geography some times can start from a vigorous challenge with the eventual future friend ; could be that the expectations on the deepness level decide on what to avoid or accept.

Comment from alan
Time: September 15, 2007, 9:18 am

This is clear well-written advise on issues we all usually muddle through on our own. Cool!

Comment from Joe C.
Time: September 17, 2007, 4:36 pm

Wow, does this subject bring back memories. You can really find out in a hurry how deeply feelings run by spouting out what you think are commonly held opinions among associates. I almost caused the end of a band’s badly needed rehearsal by criticizing what were at the time Pres. Reagan’s “voodoo economics” policies

Comment from Art
Time: September 20, 2007, 1:56 am

I avoid all talk of politics. I’ve had too many fights with people and sometimes they hold a grudge. There is too much anger between parties in the US now and it seems that no one can agree to disagree anymore.

Comment from Cara
Time: September 20, 2007, 3:44 am

Great advice on how to stay out of the middle. The worst situation is when there is alcohol involved–then the political discussions get really disgusting.

Comment from Susie
Time: September 6, 2012, 1:26 am

Why shouldn’t friends express to each other their feelings regarding national concerns? and respectfully discuss their differences. I have a friend who refuses to have a conversation about the upcoming election. I have no idea what she feels, or why? This bothers me. I’d like a chance to discuss why I intend to vote for ‘X’ candidate, and hear the reasoning behind her own choice. The fact that she refuses to even have a discussion is causing tension between us.

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: September 6, 2012, 7:23 am

Hi Susia
My guess is that your friend has had too many unpleasant discussions about politics given the current level of animosity between the parties; but I can understand why it hurts your feelings. I’m guessing the WAY in which she refuses to have the discussion makes you feel dismissed. It’s too bad she hasn’t taken the time to explain to you her reasons. Part of her motive is probably to avoid causing tension between you but paradoxically tension has been created anyway. I’d send her an email or a letter telling her you will honor her desire to avoid political discussions but that you wish she would have been less dismissive and at least explained WHY she refuses to do so. I like letters and emails because they can be edited to avoid tactlessness and they can be re-read by the receiver. Good luck.

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