Regardless of your background in any topic, you might have some opinion. Even if you know nothing about, let’s say a particular tax proposal, you probably have an internal set of criteria around taxes: You don’t mind them to be used for some programs, you resent them being used for others and you feel that certain rates are fair and reasonable etc.Just because you’re not an “insider” doesn’t mean you can’t participate in democracy and have an intelligent, civil discussion. This isn’t about rehearsing or studying, it’s about truthfully speaking your piece. So here’s some basics on what to do:
Step 1: Don’t panic. Getting flustered leads to extra tension and unclear thinking. Take your time to think about what you want to say. You’re a human, not an actor reading a cue card.
Step2: Think of what your feelings are are around the subject. What upsets you, what makes you feel good, what is the point that gets your hackles up? Naming your feelings for yourself and even for your opponent makes authenticity and transparency set the stage – both qualities everyone respects in a discussion. If you can skip this step and go to Step 3 – great, you’re doing it even faster.
Step 3: Use backward engineering to figure out what values are involved in this particular discussion. If you are upset at the latest tax increase was it because you disagreed with the way it was unfairly assessed, was it because you generally distrust those that pushed the increase through, was it because you never like any tax increases, was it because the taxes support something you are ethically opposed to etc. Try to get to the root feeling of why you think the way you do.
Step 4: Start as simply as saying something like, “I believe in _(state the value)_” (social justice, equal opportunity, respecting authority, spiritual freedom, etc.). Then continue honestly, “I don’t know the details of that program/proposal/story, but what your saying seems to go against that.” At that point you will have credibility and a sort of moral highground due to your lack of typical political smarminess and your debate opposite will have to explain their position from the point of view of your stated value. They will have to agree or disagree with its importance.
Step 5: At this point you can determine how far apart you actually are from this person. Oftentimes you will find the person agreeing with your stated value. When you are in territory that has not been clearly staked out by a partisan talking head, you can actually have a conversation about your values. That is what we all care about anyway. The chasm between two people seems more like a pothole when you both can agree that the other has some principles.
Step 6: When topic shifts to the other persons favorite issue and position, point out how it is counter to your values and therefore you cannot accept (the position they are taking). If it aligns with your values, that’s even better to point out.
Step 7: Call out any cheap shots. This includes resorting to name calling, pulling a “God told me so”, logical fallacies, and persuasion techniques. Definitely don’t let them point rudely and physically cower you like the lady in this photo. If these sort of activities persist, excuse yourself due to lack of common courtesy ground rules.
Realize that there will always be those that will not budge into any uncharted territory. Some folks simply won’t do much but parrot some talking points, start calling names, or get too hot headed. Don’t take the bait in person or online. A person has a right to their opinion without being badgered. Leave them alone and perhaps someday your stellar conduct will win them over .
Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know details and definitely don’t just make stuff up, you will be discovered quickly and lose credibility. Surprisingly, a little shared vulnerability does wonders for getting some empathetic feeling in your favor and makes your opponent more likely to want to compromise with you.