Tuesday night I, like many other Americans, sat up watching election coverage. As the results came in and the outcome became clear, most people felt shock. Some in a good way, some in a way that felt like the end of the world.
Now that the election is over, there are a lot of people who are frightened and angry. I bet some of YOU are frightened and angry. At the very least, I know you have friends, family members, coworkers and acquaintances who are frightened and angry.
As we move forward as a country after the election, there are things we can do to help each other NOT be frightened and angry to this degree. Even if you disagree politically, presumably these are your friends and family members you are speaking with, right? People you love, or at least people you like. People whose friendships you don’t want to lose. No one should lose a friendship years in the making to a political event.
The very first thing to do when someone is emotionally overwrought is to shut up and LISTEN. As was stated in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, we should listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to respond. Don’t plan your answer or figure out how to poke holes in their position.
When you have listened, ask questions to make sure you fully understand the person’s concerns. For instance, “I hear you saying that you feel your vote didn’t count because the election didn’t go the way you wanted it to.” Or “Because you’re a woman, the result of this election makes you afraid you won’t be safe, is that right?”
Just clarifying your understanding of their concern will help them see that you DO value their point of view and respect their opinion.
Now that you have worked so hard to understand where they’re coming from, DON’T BLOW IT! Don’t devalue them by explaining how their concern isn’t valid or that their opinion is wrong. Their opinion isn’t wrong any more than yours is. Simply empathize.
Remember, your friends’ and family members’ anger and fear over the election outcome is not an attack on you, even if you did vote for Trump. If these are people you love, if these are people you like, and they are afraid and angry, you will want to help them feel better. That starts by helping them know they are heard, they are valued, and their concerns are understood.
I really like the #SafetyPin movement that rose out of the Brexit vote. Wearing a safety pin on your lapel means you are willing to support minorities and women and provide help if they need it. You are a safe person. You won’t judge.
BTW don’t engage in arguments with people via Facebook or Twitter if at all possible. This is the absolute worst place to have a political discussion. Body language and facial expression can’t be assessed, and you can’t give or get a hug after the conversation. Pick up the phone and call or, if possible, meet for coffee if someone is really struggling. Have the conversation offline.
BE ASSERTIVE, NOT AGGRESSIVE
If you feel you need to make a political point (or any other point, for that matter) in response to something someone has said, make sure to make your comment about what was said, not about the other person. For instance, suppose you hear your friend say “I can’t believe anyone voted for Trump. All Trump supporters are racist, bigoted, misogynistic homophobes.” (And I have seen that very statement over and over again on Facebook and Twitter.)
An emotional response may be to unfriend or unfollow that person, which I believe is the wrong thing to do. When we surround ourselves with only people who believe the way we do, we become very rigid in our thinking.
An aggressive response would be to say “Well all Clinton supporters are whiny crybabies who want free stuff and can’t handle being told they can’t have something or that they lost.” (Again, I’ve seen exactly that statement on social media as well.) See how that isn’t going to further the cause of respectful and productive communication?
An assertive response might be to say “I have friends who voted for Trump and did so because of the issues, not because they agree with him on everything. They have never said or done anything to my knowledge that was racist or misogynistic or homophobic. Do you really believe it’s impossible for someone to vote for Trump without being racist or misogynistic?” This challenges the statement without attacking the person.
Remember that we’re pretty much stuck with each other, right? America exists because it has room for all points of view. Respectful dialog is the basis of our form of government and just because our candidates have not been stellar examples of this goal doesn’t mean that WE should hurl insults at each other.
Treating each other the way we would want to be treated is the key to navigating the days and weeks ahead. Before you post something, before you say something out loud, stop and think.
Listen first, clarify the person’s concern, be assertive and be kind. If everyone behaved this way, America would be much better off.