How to talk to someone with different political views without getting nasty

With the ongoing crisis in the city, there is bound to be disagreements among Hongkongers. Learn how to keep a cool head when talking to someone with opposing ideas.

Nester Chik |

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Having a calm discussion is the best way to understanding other people's points of view.

The ongoing political crisis is dividing Hong Kong, with people holding different opinions on key issues. As a result, teenagers could be caught up in conflicts with family members or friends. Sometimes, peaceful discussions may turn into arguments, or even fights, causing long-lasting damage to relationships.

Chi Hin Cheong, a practioner of non-violent communication, and sociologist Joseph Cho Man-kit, from Chinese University, offer Young Post readers some tips about how to handle such situations.

They point out that, generally, conversations are made up of three parts – our opinions, feelings, and the relationship between the people talking.

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At times when we feel strongly about something, we usually focus on our own reasoning. However, when a discussion becomes all about opinions, with little attention paid to feelings and relationships, one side is likely to feel misunderstood, says Cho.

He adds that to avoid this, the key is to focus not just on the literal meanings of words but also their undertones. For example, if someone says, “Fine, you’re always right and I’m wrong”, they may not actually mean it; perhaps they’re being passive aggressive. 

Also, if a parent was to say, “Am I not even allowed to be worried about you as your parent?” It’s not always a question to be answered, but an expression that shows they want their concerns to be accepted by their children.

Often, arguments with parents come from a place of worry. It's important to remember your relationship with them and to avoid insults and being passive-aggressive.
Photo: Shutterstock

According to Chi, another way to facilitate communication is “to repeat the other party’s opinions in your own words. An attempt could even be made to empathise with them or understand them on an emotional level”.

Applying this to our previous example, if faced with a confrontational question from a parent, try to analyse and understand their underlying meaning and ask, “Are you worried about me?”. If that doesn’t work, try to comfort them by saying, “I am coming home now. Will be back safe and sound”.

It’s crucial to speak in a calm and respectful manner to avoid escalating an argument. Otherwise, the two parties might reach a point where both sides are not willing to listen to each other. That will create even more misunderstandings, and eventually, both people will just end up shouting at each other. Cho also suggests that people avoid using inappropriate language, and also try not to insult or intimidate others.

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Step into the other person’s shoes and consider where they are coming from. By understanding their views, we may realise that they are not as stubborn or wrong as we thought they were. This kind of mentality keeps people calm and rational, explains Cho.

Some people think both parties will never understand each other if they don’t agree with each other. “However, you can still hold [your own] views after listening to different opinions,” Cho says.

If a conversation with someone is expected to be difficult, we must expect to hear opposing opinions and even insults, so that we are mentally prepared. 

To avoid being emotionally triggered, “allocate 20 or 30 per cent of your attention to your bodily sensations, such as your breathing rate or body movements, to prevent yourself from being carried away by [strong] emotions like anger,” Cho adds. 

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One could also state their emotional needs to the person they’re talking to and ask for some understanding when conversations get too heated, Chi explains. “There is no right or wrong when it comes to emotions.”

When asked about how to deal with negative emotions, Cho emphasises that those emotions should not be viewed as a bad. “Sometimes people will [try to ignore their] negative emotions by distracting themselves with other things, such as shopping and eating,” Cho says. But what they should do, he adds, is embrace these negative feelings and let them out, so they don’t build up inside. 

Some think that people can never understand each other if they don't agree, but it's possible to hold your own views and realise why others feel the way they do.
Photo: Shutterstock

Another way to take charge of our emotions during a conversation is to pay attention to the little signals – such as tremors or sweating – that our bodies send out. He adds it’s important for us to check in with our feelings and identify our emotions. However, if such negative emotions become too overwhelming, Chi advises Young Post readers to seek help from professionals. 

“There are many credible and professional counsellors [and non-governmental organisations] which have set up hotlines to help teenagers cope with emotional problems,” he says.

It is also important to remember there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule to maintain healthy conversation, because everyone is different, Cho adds. “Flexibility is the key to effective communication.”

Edited by Nicole Moraleda