Disagree About Politics Without Ruining Dinner

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How To Disagree About Politics Without Ruining Dinner…Even in an Election Year

Chloë Hylkema

Written by: Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema uses her writing skills to create useful and up-to-date content for DatingAdvice.com. Chloë is an Emory University grad who is familiar with what it means to date in the modern age, and she works to write material that is engaging, truthful, and as helpful as possible. Being on the front lines of the dating scene, Chloë is committed to staying engaged with the ever-changing world of dating to provide the most useful content to readers.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Discuss This! Discuss This!

The Short Version: It’s easy for political conversations to become hotbeds for disagreement, misunderstanding, and mischaracterization, especially during an election year. Americans tend to hold their political identities close to their hearts, and differences of opinion can feel impossible to navigate. Braver Angels is a cross-partisan organization giving American citizens the tools and resources they need to navigate healthy and productive conversations with people on the other side of the aisle. It turns out that holding a conflicting opinion isn’t usually what causes political discussions to unravel – it’s not having the communication skills to express yourself and meaningfully engage with others. 

I come from an anomaly of an extended family: We’re all pretty politically homogeneous. I was never briefed before entering a get-together on what I couldn’t or shouldn’t say or political topics I should stay away from entirely. My college boyfriend’s family wasn’t quite the same, and I learned that the hard way.

It was a humid July day in 2022, and I was mingling with my boyfriend’s extended family for the first time. I found myself chatting with a group of young cousins, and with my boyfriend at my side, I made a passing quip about the recent overturn of Roe V. Wade. The group fell silent, and I knew immediately that it was the wrong audience for that sort of remark. 

Political conversations can get so divisive that some people opt to avoid them entirely. And in this political climate, it’s understandable. Losing relationships over political disagreements has become a reality for many people, but it doesn’t need to be this way. Braver Angels is paving the way for cross-partisan partnerships with events and resources that make political conversations easier and more productive.

Gabriella Timmis is a member of Braver Angels’ marketing team, and she talked to us about the volunteer-led movement that’s making real changes in America’s political discourse. Braver Angels is imagining a more unified political landscape for Americans and making it happen through community gatherings, debates, and grassroots leadership.

She explored how conversations about politics can serve as microcosmic opportunities for practicing intentional and empathetic communication and the far-reaching benefits of these kinds of conversations beyond settling dinner table debates.

“We need to fundamentally change how we approach political conversations,” Gabriella said. “The purpose isn’t to convince the other person. These conversations should be about learning from someone you disagree with and genuinely exploring their opinions.”

Getting At The Heart Of Constructive Communication

Gabriella said there are a number of reasons why political conversations go awry. Many Americans conceptualize their political beliefs as an extension of their personal identity, meaning political topics can feel very sensitive. People communicate differently when they’re discussing something important to them, and this has to be considered when stepping into political discussions.

Listening may be one of the most basic components of a conversation, yet it is one of the most difficult to actually do. Gabriella said many people enter discussions about politics with the goal to persuade, rather than to listen, and this approach sets the groundwork for conflict and unhealthy communication.

“Once you stop trying to change people’s perspectives, suddenly so much space in your mind is freed to actually listen, explore, and get curious about what the other person is saying,” Gabriella said. 

Braver Angels created a conversational model to encourage curiosity and real listening. The model is called L.A.P.P., which stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Pivot, and Perspective, and gives people a straightforward guideline for constructive engagement. Braver Angels uses this model for debates and events but can be applied in any conversation where it’s needed.

LAPP technique braver angels
The L.A.P.P. technique makes political conversations less argumentative.

“We really lean into the Listen and Acknowledge parts of L.A.P.P.,” Gabriella said. “These are about asking questions, following up, and making sure you understand the entirety of the other’s perspective. We encourage everyone to listen to what others say and acknowledge it.”

The Listening and Acknowledging steps allow people to feel heard, which is often lost in political conversations. Once someone feels they are being fully understood, communication instantly becomes more approachable.

The third letter of L.A.P.P., Pivot, ensures both parties are staying on the same page by encouraging one simple clarifying question. “It’s about simply asking, ‘Do you want to hear what I think about that?’ and it’s kind of a funny thing because it’s almost vulnerable in some way,” Gabriella said. “It shifts the conversation and puts people in the position of asking for the other’s perspective, rather than feeling it’s thrown at them.”

The Pivot question sets up the final part of L.A.P.P., which is Perspective. This step allows a person to share their own outlook, but only after they have absorbed the perspective of the other person. Through L.A.P.P., every party involved in a discussion gets the opportunity to authentically express themselves and be truly heard.

Navigate Conversations With Understanding

If you’ve ever been in couples counseling, the L.A.P.P. model may sound familiar. “Dr. Bill Doherty is one of Braver Angels’ co-founders,” Gabriella said. “He’s also a couples therapist and helped develop Braver Angels programming using the same communication techniques he uses with couples.”

Couples struggle with the same communication hang-ups as people in political conversations and for similar reasons. During arguments, couples often focus on making sure they express themselves fully and yearn to be heard, yet struggle to truly hear their partner when they express themselves. Attending to the actual point of disagreement becomes lost among poor communication habits.

“There’s a misconception that you need to agree on all the facts in order to have a conversation,” Gabriella said. “But that’s not always the case. When we ask each other questions, we can go beyond what we believe is true and talk about what’s meaningful to us.”

The beliefs voters hold about the topics they care about the most, whether it be climate change, reproductive rights, or immigration, are informed by a variety of news and information sources. And if you’re passionate about these topics, you’re going to engage with discussions a little differently. 

"politics is relationships" braver angels
Politics is more than facts- it’s a web of relationships that inform one another.

“No matter how passionate we are about politics or a particular issue, we’re almost always relying on other people for information,” Gabriella said. “For example, even if you’re a climate activist, you’re likely not doing the research yourself. You’re relying on data collected by scientists and trusting their work.”

When political conversations get too caught up in logistics and what is a fact, the spirit of the discussion easily becomes lost. “Politics is relationships,” Gabriella said. “And who we trust is at the core of our political opinions.”

When we remember the centrality of our relationships in everything we do – including and especially politics – we can become more focused on the person we’re talking to rather than the ideas they’re expressing. “We want to build trust between people who disagree,” Gabriella said. “We want people to realize they can work together with people with differing political opinions.”

The next time you find yourself getting heated during a political discussion, think about L.A.P.P. and ask yourself if these sorts of conversational tools have been in play. Most of the time, if things are getting heated, it’s due to a communication breakdown rather than an ideological disagreement. Get curious about others’ opinions and beliefs, and try to explore them instead of immediately becoming critical.

Braver Angels Makes Election Years Less Contentious 

“Polarization is the problem that prevents us from solving all other problems,” Gabriella said. “When you look at American politics, if there’s an issue you want to address, you have to fix the polarization of opinions on the issue first. It all ties into this partisan gridlock and inefficiency in Congress.”

Braver Angels is attending to the issue of polarization in hopes it will not only make policy-making more efficient but also improve trust among citizens. “We have a bunch of different programs,” Gabriella said. “We do town halls, candidate debates, student outreach, and community debates.”

All of Braver Angels’ programs are designed to address the growing partisan animosity that’s proving to be a serious threat to American culture. The organization aims to bring Americans together, strengthen the nation’s democratic republic, and create a future in which citizens can embrace and flourish within disagreement.

braver angels impact
Braver Angels is helping Americans find commonality and understanding with the other side.

Braver Angels Debates are one of the organization’s most popular events and bring together people from both sides of the aisle for a respectful and collaborative discussion. The parliamentary format encourages every person to speak, ensures civility even during disagreements on controversial topics, and gives people the tools they need to debate constructively. 

Braver Angels collects metrics on the impacts of its efforts, and the data shows promise. The organization reports that after participating in a Braver Angels program, 68% of participants had a positive view of the other side, and 97% of participants in 1:1 conversations said they found common ground with someone across the divide.

This election cycle, lean into the discomfort of disagreement. As you navigate controversial or sensitive political conversations, remember that you’re speaking to someone whose background and experiences have influenced their perspective in the same ways yours has. Work to see that person, not just the ideas they hold.

“If there’s one thing Braver Angels has really helped me with, it’s being more optimistic about the American people,” Gabriella said. “There are so many good people out there. Being afraid or unwilling to talk to those across the aisle clouds our judgment. If we want a better future, we need to have better conversations. And that starts with being curious and asking good questions.”