How to Have Political Conversations

Revisit the relationship you have with this person. Ask yourself if you are willing to learn from them. Do you think they are open to learning from you?

We know how heated and emotional conversations about immigration can become. Our responses can range from fight to flight to freeze as we seek to share our heart for immigrants and refugees and invite others to respond with welcome, too. Brittani Farrington, a former debate coach at Wheaton College and a member of our Women of Welcome team, shared some ways to help us engage.

7 tips to help us engage in brave and productive conversations with confidence and grace:

  1. Respond to your conversation partner as if they gave the best version of their argument. Begin with curiosity and respect and don’t jump to correction. Don’t waste time eviscerating someone on technicalities because the conversation will quickly become an argument.
  2. Consider the core fear. What is beneath what they are saying? Don’t correct the statement but instead engage the fear behind it. Most often we can empathize with those fears and concerns.
  3. Seek common ground. Lead with the things we have in common. For example, as Christians, we believe immigrants and refugees are made in the image of God. Many of us also share a common desire for people to enter the U.S. through legal immigration. Anchor the conversation on those commonalities and then move into more specifics.
  4. Tailor your responses. If it is someone you know, for example, a family member or friend, take into consideration that person’s context. Don’t bash a political candidate they love or a topic they are passionate about. Also, evaluate if that person has a baseline of compassion for immigrants and refugees. If the answer is no, then start with something small that builds empathy.
  5. Consider your language. Be careful not to shut down the conversation before it begins. Will your response serve that person or the point you desire to make? Immigration is so much bigger than one political party, and we do not need to defend a particular candidate or party.
  6. Resist proving how much you know. Remember it’s a conversation, not a lecture. Start the journey, plant the seed, take the pressure off to share everything, and just begin with one point. Leave room for reciprocity and follow-up conversations.
  7. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer. We do not have to have an answer for everything. God’s plan for immigrants and refugees does not change whether we say the right thing or not. It is not realistic for us to understand everything about immigration. You are also modeling to your partner that it is ok to not know the answer. 

Stop and Consider

Our hope is you will find Brittani’s tips helpful and have more productive conversations. However, if you find yourself in a situation where it is not going well and you feel your body responding with fight or flight, stop and take a deep breath. Revisit the relationship you have with this person. Ask yourself if you are willing to learn from them. Do you think they are open to learning from you? If you feel this person can’t or won’t hear you, then just ask them questions. You may not get to share your points, but you will learn more about where they are coming from.

Model Peaceful Presence

Also, be aware that others are often watching and listening even if they aren’t actively a part of the conversation. They hear the information you are sharing and are watching the way you engage with your partner. You never know what God is doing in their heart. Model peaceful presence.

Lastly, remember there are no winners and losers. At the end of the conversation, if you feel the person would be willing to talk to you about this again then you have opened the door and now you get to see what God will do. 

Going Deeper

Watch the full conversation on prepping for graceful conversations here.

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