You’ve read the requisite books on women in politics, you’ve got your voter registration form sent in and you’re following the 10 best Twitter accounts for election coverage— you’re ready for November! And while you’re super proud of your own political prowess, that doesn’t mean you want to share your viewpoints with the world — and it definitely doesn’t mean you want to hear your cousin’s, dermatologist’s and childhood best friend’s opinions. Unfortunately, whether it’s on Facebook, at the office or just out to dinner, we’re often faced with awkward political positions that make our skin crawl. It’s often hard to know exactly how to deal, so we enlisted etiquette expert Elaine Swann to give us five tips on how to politely extricate yourself from these sticky situations with ease.
1. Change the subject. Elaine’s top etiquette rule is to “turn a stupid question into a new conversation.” Whether your grandmother is bemoaning the end of the world during your Sunday phone date or your co-workers are ranting every lunch hour in the break room, Elaine says that “building an arsenal of questions or comments that would appeal to their non-political interests” is the easiest way to diffuse a potentially awkward situation. If Bob the tech guy at work is really into electric cars, forward him an article you read about a new brand. When the conversation turns political, bring up the article and ask him about it. Bonus points if it’s something you enjoy talking about too.
2. Don’t argue. You can rarely change a person’s mind, Elaine reminds, and you can “only change the way you deal with them.” She adds, “Opinions are developed over years and are often passed down through generations. Don’t take on the burden of undoing this within the span of a single conversation.” Since all you can control is your reaction to the situation, be honest with yourself now about what you’re willing to let go and what will make you angry so you don’t end up getting heated in the moment.
3. Use it as an opportunity. Let’s say you’re out to dinner with your new significant other’s family and the election comes up. Elaine says this is a perfect time to “do more listening and less talking” so you can observe the family dynamic. She reminds that “you don’t only marry a person, but their family too,” so if you’re looking to get serious with this person and differing political opinions fall into the deal breaker category for you, it’s good to know what you’re getting into early.
4. Shut it down. “Sometimes, you have to be forward and tell folks what you will or will not tolerate,” Elaine says, so don’t be afraid to be assertive. When your uncle starts posting racist memes in response to an article you’ve posted on Facebook, delete the comment and send him a private message telling him why you did so. There’s no shame in your standing-up-for-yourself game.
5. Be vague. Most of the time, people who are imposing their viewpoints on others are just talking to hear themselves talk. You may feel weird by not contributing your real opinion, but Elaine says your ambiguity will probably go unnoticed. If you’re siting in your hair stylist’s chair and she asks you who you’re voting for, a simple “I haven’t made up my mind yet” followed by a swift subject change will almost always suffice.
Have you had an awkward political encounter recently? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know how you handled it!