Reducing political polarization

By Jason Boone
Monday, July 22, 2019

​The divisive nature of partisan politics has seeped into almost every aspect of our society. Political views and affiliations often determine who we associate with, even who we worship with. There’s a deep desire in our church for tools that can help us talk productively to people we disagree with politically. It might be co-workers, family members or even church members.

This year, the Peace and Justice Support Network will begin to work with Better Angels. Better Angles is a movement to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing liberals and conservatives together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.

Check out these helpful skills and tools from Better Angels.

5 Basic Skills

1. Listen to understand rather than to prepare your rebuttal. If you couldn’t accurately summarize what the other person just said, you haven’t listened.

2. Be curious (“Why do you see it this way?”) rather than argumentative (“How could you possibly see it this way?”)

3. Make sure you understand the other’s view before you disagree with it. (“Let me see if I understand what you are saying….”)

4. Use I-statements (“This is how I see it”) more often than truth-statements (“This is how it is.”) If you are citing facts, give your source rather than just saying it’s true.

5. Avoid characterizing the other side’s position in your own terms rather than theirs. (“Your side sees immigration as a threat to the country.” “Your side is for open borders.”)

3 Conversation skills

1. Paraphrasing: Make sure you understand and the other person feels heard. Listen for a “Yes, that’s what I’m saying”, but be ready to be corrected instead.

2. Ask real and honest questions of understanding, vs. loaded “gotcha” questions. (This is hard to do.)

3. Listening for underlying values and aspirations, and acknowledging them.

Additional resources

Better Angels summary (PDF)

Listening skills (PDF)

Depolarizing within—assessment (PDF)