This piece is the personal opinion of the writer, and doesn’t reflect the opinions of WIRED or any former employers.
It’s 2018 and everyone wants to fight. Trump. Abortion. Guns. Sex scandals. Your blood pressure probably raised a few percentage points just seeing those words. Piping hot political debates for dinner, again!? Gone are the days of constructive debate, we’re all just waiting for our opponent to finish so we can sail our own words right on past ’em. It feels like people can hear you, but they aren’t actually listening. The things I’m going to tell you are hard — I don’t even do them all the time — but I promise they’re not fake news. If you take anything from this article, let it be this:
Remember that everyone thinks they’re the good guy.
Everyone. Trump voters didn’t vote for him just to torture you, don’t flatter yourself. Even terrorists don’t murder because they enjoy being evil. Most people genuinely believe they’re the hero of the story. Trump voters feel like they’re stopping the snowflake-softening of their children, standing up for their rights to defend themselves, and cutting sweet billionaire trade deals around the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s actually happening or not. Even Al Qaeda, one of the most inhumane terrorist groups on the planet, sees the American bombs that fall into their homes drop directly into their narrative that the West is the bad guy they are defending against. The sooner you realize they aren’t just out to get you, and that they think they’re the good guy too, the easier it gets to sympathize — even just a little.
Follow this tweaked golden rule: Talk to others the way you would want to be talked to.
No, I’m not even saying be overly nice to them. I’m saying speak their language. Let me give you an example: You, a tree-hugging, yerba mate — drinking hippie. Across from you is a suave, wealthy businessman. Your goal is to convince him that global warming is wrong. To you, of course it’s wrong — we’re not respecting Mother Nature, who gave us life. Oil companies are draining our fossil fuels and poking country-sized holes in our atmosphere, and cars are making it harder to breathe, and icebergs are falling off into the goddamn ocean, and SOON MIAMI WILL BE A CORAL REEF EXCEPT THOSE WILL BE GONE TOO. Breathe. Okay, guess what? You didn’t move him an inch.
Here’s why: He doesn’t care about the birds and the bees. He cares about the bucks. He cares about success and profitability. You can still win, if you speak his language.
Here’s how you approach the businessman about global warming: Being green actually saves you money, because you’re using less energy. Losing huge markets like coastal cities to climate change is a massive problem for global business, and rising temperatures are also killing off crops and making our food worse and more expensive. Not to mention that the majority of consumers now believe in global warming, and are seeking change, so the social marketing of being a “green” company is more lucrative than ever.
Don’t tell them why YOU care. Tell them why THEY should care.
People forget that it’s possible to agree on the same thing, even if it’s not for the same reasons. When it comes to arguments, worry less about the road it takes to get there, and more about the destination itself.
Focus on listening and speaking later. It takes two to tango. If you’re talking past each other, you’re part of the problem too.
So many people I know ask the question: How could someone have voted for Donald Trump? Someone that is accused of sex crimes! And lying! And discrimination! But think once again: Are you speaking their language? Is that what they’re concerned about? Do you think they really voted for Trump because of his sex scandals? If you don’t know why someone could have voted for him, ask.
After the 2016 US presidential election, former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders appeared in a MSNBC town hall special called Bernie in Trump Country, where he sat down with Trump voters in Kenosha, Wisconsin to talk about the issues. On paper, it was a recipe for disaster. He could have simply teed off about all the lies, the inexperience, or the outright racism. He mentioned them, but instead of talking past them, he spoke their language. He told them the reality of what was about to happen to their Medicare, he warned them of what was about to happen to their jobs and their families. He showcased the similarities between them and the people Trump discriminates against; humanizing the marginalized in a way that drew sympathy. Imagine if your family wasn’t allowed to fly here. Imagine if you were being deported back to a war zone without your children.
There is so much more that binds us together than tears us apart. Yes, there are two sides to the gun control debate, but at the end of the day all either side wants is for their kids to get home safe. We’re all fighting for different routes to the same destination. We’re all on the same team.
Remember most people have a whole lot in common with you. They’re trying to put food on the table, they’re trying to keep their families safe. They’re trying their very best to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled.
Trying to understand why someone might be fighting for things in a way you don’t understand doesn’t just broaden your horizons — it makes them feel heard, and a whole lot more likely to listen.
So go out there and try it right now, with one of those friends you know you’ve been talking past. Remember that they believe they’re the good guy, and that they’re morally right. Remember to speak their language. Remember that what brings us together is so much stronger, and so much more plentiful, than what tears us apart. It can be hard in 2018. You can do it.