By Jordyn Cormier October 31, 2016

In an election cycle so filled with divisiveness, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what we don’t like about the other candidate’s policies. But by engaging in conversation and working to understand disparate opinions, we can better bridge the gap between our political ideologies and foster healthy political discussion.

Democrat, Republican, or other, we need to be able to have an open conversation about our political opinions. As the election approaches, the buzz about the real issues will hopefully continue to grow. But, there is a widespread tendency to only discuss politics with those who share our beliefs. Republicans flock to Republicans. Democrats flock to other Democrats. When the two opposing parties meet, sparks fly. Unfortunately, that leaves us a country divided. There can be no progress, environmental or otherwise, until there is open communication on both sides of the aisle. But is it really possible to have a civil discussion about political issues with a colleague who holds drastically different views from your own?

If you just guffawed at the thought of having a rational, productive political conversation with a loved one, friend, or colleague who has starkly opposing political views, you’re not alone. Politics is a sensitive subject for many of us. But democracy relies on citizens forming their own informed beliefs. The only way to do this is to discuss your ideas with others, likeminded and otherwise.

Here are a few tips to help you get a rational, civilized political conversation going without you or your colleague completely shutting down:

Avoid condescension. Never use offensive language when discussing opposing views. You are setting them against you, which encourages harsh, unproductive arguments. Instead, try something new. Try listening and understanding. Listen to what they care about. Read in between the lines. Understand where your colleagues are coming from without cutting them off or dismissing their point of view as less valid than your own. We are all equal people trying to get by in this world, and hearing an opposing view could open your eyes to a vastly different perspective from your own.

Don’t try to change their mind. The reason most across-the-aisle political discussions backfire is because both sides are trying to change the other’s mind. Instead, try to make your colleague understand where you’re coming from. More importantly, try to understand where they are coming from. The goal of a political discussion should not be to get the other person to join your side. That is unlikely to happen, especially if that is the intention. The goal is to understand their point of view, not change their point of view.

Find something you can agree on. Once you can find common ground, you have a foot in the door. For instance, if you can both agree that fossil fuels pose an environmental threat, discussing what should be done about the issue may become a little easier. Perhaps it’s a form of mutual respect, but finding one small point your share, however broad and general it may be, can provide fertile ground for a productive discussion.

Listen, listen listen! Don’t formulate your counterargument while you’re ‘listening’ to your colleague’s views. That means you are not actually hearing. You are just waiting for your turn. The single most important thing we can do in a discussion is to listen and make our opponent feel heard. Deep down, we all just want our opinions to be acknowledged. Be sensitive. A few minutes of unadulterated listening can go a long way towards bridging your political gaps.

Fact check yourself. Don’t spout sensational Facebook headlines. Only make points if you have educated yourself in them. Yes, even news outlets get a little sensational at times. If you don’t know something for certain, say so. Cut off the fat and stick with the solid facts. Half-truths and lies only devolve a productive political discussion into an unpleasant and convoluted sneer fest.

Concede when appropriate. Neither of you are 100 percent in the right all the time. If your debate opponent makes a good point, acknowledge it. Your opponent will not only feel respected and heard, but may become more open to hearing your perspective. On the other hand, make sure you concede when you are wrong about something. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The best of us know that admitting when you were wrong is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of intelligence and fortitude. We are all wrong sometimes, just embrace it. Try to be open and honest and hopefully the content of your discussion will follow suit.

*Oh, and don’t yell or raise your voice. Yes, yes, we’re all passionate people, but nothing will set off someone’s defenses faster than confrontational, irrational behavior.

We need to set the example for our politicians. The more we can connect and unify, the better off our political system will be. As you get ready to vote this November, don’t be afraid to engage with others in order to better understand other perspectives. Delve into the issues, especially under-discussed environmental ones, and participate in our democracy. No one’s going to do it for you.