The difficulty with discussing politics

I asked my Facebook page Likes for ideas on blog posts and several people mentioned discussing politics, especially in light of the recent presidential election. 

One fan wanted to know how to get out of a political discussion where someone was complaining about the election results. Another wanted to know how to effectively engage with someone who wants to talk politics. Another wanted to know when sharing your political views on Facebook becomes too much.

Until recently, my stance has been to never discuss politics with most people because most people can’t talk about politics without getting upset. Also, unfortunately, right or wrong, our opinion about others often change when we learn they don’t share our same political view, or they support a candidate or issue we find distasteful. It’s a very emotional issue.

Even when I agreed with people’s politics on Facebook, I found myself feeling frustrated at how vociferous and mean-spirited many posts were. I get upset with the very negative depictions and altered photos of political figures, even those I don’t support. And, that just further reinforced to me that most people cannot discuss politics politely or respectfully.

A few people on Facebook have admitted to me that they talk politics in the hopes of changing people’s minds. I’m here to tell you it won’t happen, especially when you post things like, “Anyone who votes for ____(name a political candidate) is an idiot.” Are you expecting me to say, “Oh, I just realized you’re right. I am an idiot for voting for ______. I am sure you are much more enlightened and knowledgeable than me, so I’m going to change my vote”? Good luck!

So, what is my recent change of heart around this issue? I have decided it’s OK to discuss politics but with several caveats, the most important being we do so with respect and with the intention of learning and understanding other viewpoints. This is not something many folks can do, including me, that’s why I just don’t go there. I get too emotional. But, it is possible to have a reasoned political discussion.

You ask questions like, “Tell me why you like ____ (candidate)?”, “What issues do you care the most about? Why?”, “What or who influenced your political beliefs?”, “What is your dream for this country?” And, you do not, repeat, do not, argue, and say they are stupid or misinformed. You truly seek to understand, not to persuade. When people feel you’re trying to convince them of something or they feel judged, they will shut you out.

If the person you’re trying to have a reasoned discourse with becomes bombastic or judgmental, you really have no other choice than to end the conversation. They have moved into an emotional place and are not being reasonable.

Imagine if we all approached political discussions, and other controversial subjects, with an open mind and a way to better understand others. We’d have fewer wars, we’d have less hurt feelings, and we’d all get along better.

Alright, on to the other Facebook questions.

Q. How do I get out of a conversation where someone is complaining about the election results?

A. You can say something like, “I’m sorry you’re upset about how the election went. I try to remember that we have much to be thankful as citizens of the United States. We get to vote and we have a choice about who we elect. Many people don’t have either of those rights. The down side is, with a choice comes disappointment for those who voted for the candidate who lost. Next time the election may go your way. That’s the beauty of a democracy. Be thankful for your rights and let’s move on.”

Q. When is sharing your political views on Facebook too much?

A. It’s too much when your friends start hiding your posts or unfriending you. It’s too much when you stop getting comments and when the majority of your posts are political. Most of your friends can handle a political post here and there, but when you’re regularly spewing political diatribe, it’s too much. Even when people agree with your politics, after a while they will get sick of your posts.

I encourage you to stay away from inflammatory language, limit your political posts and, most importantly, be respectful.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you think we can have meaningful and respectful political dialogue, or is it just too heated? Do you agree or disagree with my answers to the Facebook questions? Why?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. jan de graaf on December 6, 2012 at 4:52 am

    I never share my political ideas on Facebook. That could case a lot of trouble with people. I once had some trouble with people about politics!

  2. ArdenClise on December 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    @jan de graaf
     You are smart not to discuss politics on Facebook. It just gets people upset.
    Thank you for posting. Happy Holidays.

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