A guide to discussing politics with friends and family

a group of young people chatting. the image is tinted blue. on the right, there is an image of a young person holding a megaphone which is superimposed on the image of the young people talking

In short, politics is when people and groups negotiate with one another about how things are in society. As you’ll probably have noticed, it’s not just about the doings of a group of politicians in Canberra. Politics affects people’s lives in tangible ways. Since we live in a democracy, it’s something everyone is involved in, whether we like it or not.

Here are just a few aspects of our lives that can be affected by politics:

  • our education system

  • our health system

  • our employment and finances

  • our rights and liberties

  • the future of our planet and its environment.

As well as this, lots of people have experienced hardships because of their ethnicity, gender, sexuality or beliefs. Many people get involved in politics because they want to help find solutions to those issues and create positive change. But because politics can be so personal, these discussions can become uncomfortable when tensions rise and boundaries are crossed.

Tips for having political conversations

Figure out what you want to achieve before talking to other people

There are a few different reasons why people chat about politics:

  • to learn more about what other people believe

  • to persuade people from one point of view to another

  • because it’s interesting to talk about.

Before you start a political conversation with someone, ask yourself what you want out of it.

If you’ve talked a lot about politics with other people, you’ve probably experienced at least a few conversations where no one changed their mind, no one learnt anything and it wasn’t even interesting! If you think about what you want from a conversation beforehand, you’ll be more likely to avoid that scenario and achieve your goal.

For instance, if you don’t think someone will change their mind, but you’re curious to learn how they think, don’t get distracted by trying to persuade them.

Ask lots of questions

If you look at political conversations as an opportunity to ask people about what they think, you’re actually more likely to change people’s minds and learn more, and less likely to feel pressured and stressed.

If you’re looking to change other people’s minds, finding out more about why they believe what they do can help you to understand their belief system and figure out what you have in common. Doing this may help you to convince them at a later date.

When you ask someone to explain why they think certain things, it can also help them to realise that they have gaps in their knowledge or can’t really justify their viewpoint. In fact, psychologists suggest that this approach is more effective than giving people facts and statistics that support your view.

Understand your level of control

According to psychologists, a solid way to approach big problems in the world that are stressing you out is to focus on the things you can control yourself, while also acknowledging the things you can’t control.

It can be useful to remind yourself that some people might never change their minds about the things they believe. In fact, studies have shown that when people are confronted with facts that conflict with their political beliefs, they actually become .

So, while it remains difficult to change the minds of people around you, you can definitely control your own actions.

illustration of person focusing on what they can control

Click here to read a transcript of the above comic.

Remember: just because you can’t control something, it doesn’t mean you can’t use your actions to influence that thing. Here are a few things you can do to help create positive change:

  • Volunteer for local charities or non-profit organisations in your community.

  • Research how you can support the people or places affected by the problem. It could be by donating your time, money or possessions, or sharing information about the issue on your socials.

  • Find people with similar values and help them to take part in creating positive change.

Know when to change the topic

Even if you enjoy chatting about politics, if it starts making you feel stressed or sad it can be a good idea to change the topic or take a break from the conversation. Here are a few signs that it’s time to take a break:

  • The other person is being rude or disrespectful.

  • The other person is bringing your personal identity, such as your gender, ethnicity or sexuality, into the discussion in a negative way.

  • You’re feeling anxious or frustrated.

  • The other person is reminding you of past challenges in your life you don’t want to think about.

If you’re not feeling great after talking about politics

If talking about politics makes you feel hurt, threatened or just sad, here are a few things you can do:

  • Try not to have conversations about politics that you know won’t be productive.

  • Remember that while you can try and work towards positive change as much as you can, there are factors that are out of your control.

  • Read more on what you can do if you’ve been treated unfairly because of your gender, ethnicity, sexuality or beliefs.

  • Click here if you need urgent help.

What can I do now?

  • If you’re seeing a lot of toxic discussions on your timeline, learn more about managing your social media usage.

  • Find opportunities to volunteer your time near you on Seek Volunteer or on govolunteer.com.au.


The big issues