It’s Election Time!


  • How do we communicate at home about the candidates? current leaders? our preferences? our opponents?
  • What are we listening to on the radio? watching on TV? reading in our newspapers or on our favorite social media sites?
  • How do we communicate our thoughts and feelings with each other?
  • How much should we influence our children with our opinions? Experiences?
  • Do we encourage them to think like us? Do we present them with alternate views?
  • What should we tell them about people with different values, experiences, opinions?

Many of us, over the past couple of years, have felt challenged with how to communicate in this highly charged, politically polarized climate. Some of us have felt alienated from our friends and family. Perhaps we have alienated others. A few of us have created lists of “safe topics” on index cards for Thanksgiving dinner. We have heard and even engaged in emotionally charged name calling: “snowflake, redneck, elitist, hick, libtard, anti-science, wingnut, bible banger, commie, moonbat, radical, extremist, unpatriotic, evil…”

So how do we communicate across differences? Most theorists agree on a basic rule: don’t attack someone’s identity. When we attack someone’s identity, people are more likely to react defensively and are not able to truly hear what is said. It is easier to address conflict without emotionally charged, divisive “hate speech.” It is better to share the values that help to frame our mindset and influence our thoughts, policies, and practice.

Sharing Values:
Most of us enjoy a good storyteller. Many of us like to listen to a meaningful story and even remember motivational speakers from earlier periods in our lives. What is “your story”? How has your story shaped your values? People are usually willing and open to listen to a story about the origin of our values. In sharing your story, be mindful of power differences (teacher/ student, parent/ child, employer/ employee) and privilege such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, income. Be aware of the person’s identity with whom you are speaking. What is their cultural identity? generational identity? How will these aspects of their identity influence their interest and ability in listening to what you are sharing? This principle is basic to parenting, education, marketing and sales, management, friendship – interpersonal relationships.

Improving Communication:
When we improve our communication, we also improve our relationships. Counselors, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists might have different training and philosophies about working with their clients, but there are a core set of values that we commonly share with communication:

  • listen with an open mind
  • be aware of one’s nonverbal communication (eye contact, posture, attention)
  • do not pass judgment on someone’s experience
  • offer feedback while allowing the other party to reach their own conclusions

The goal for effective communication is not to change someone’s mind; it is to foster understanding.

For those of you who are interested in gaining more skills around effective communication across differences and managing conflict, consider including this book on your reading list

Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts by Dan Shapiro, Ph.D. (Director of the Harvard International Negotiating Program)

Best wishes with your interpersonal communication and any upcoming holiday dinners! Please contact us at (847) 251-6630 if you have interest in learning more about effective communication across differences individually, within your family or if enough community interest, in a support group. Thank you!