American women have carried every presidential election since 1964. We have profound influence on our families, churches, and communities. Women now receive the majority of college degrees in the US, going on to own 9.1 million businesses and employ 7.9 million people. We have First Amendment freedoms and secured rights that women around the world long for—and we have the responsibility to steward them well, especially during a confusing election year.
For the sake our generation and those to follow, we must lead by bring civility and common sense back to the public square. And yet, many women feel ill equipped to have tough conversations around controversial issues and policy platforms. Women talk about politics less often than men do and are less likely to say they enjoy it, according to Pew Research.
For women, politics comes up when they talk with their parents or their kids, but we don’t have to avoid these hot topics at our playgrounds, neighborhood cookouts, girls nights out, and classrooms very often. In these places, we as conservatives and liberals have a chance to model a way forward with respectful conversation and understanding.
As an advocate for women, families, and life issues, I’ve found myself in countless situations—both professionally and personally—where I had to make my case to people starkly on the other side. Sometimes, I know I’m the only one in the room with a certain conviction. But I believe it’s our call as women and as Christians to let our voices be heard. Here are six pieces of advice for preparing to talk politics, based on what I’ve learned over my career.
1. Pray Up
For Christians, prayer should be our first step in any endeavor. It helps us check our motives and expectations when we engage with others. I pray ahead of time that I will remain respectful and civil to the person I’m speaking to—even if things get heated. I pray that my words, if they don’t convince the other person, will at least give them something to think about. I ask that my willingness to dialog and my demeanor witness well for God.
2. Read Up
As people concerned with truth and honesty, we should do enough research on a particular issue to ensure that our arguments are based in facts, not fear or falsehood. Look over reliable data or a compelling story that could serve as a jumping off point for conversation. Recognize that not all sources we trust will hold weight when viewed from another’s belief system. For example, I don’t quote Scripture to make a point to unbelievers. Instead, I consider what hard data, science, polling, or cultural trends could help make my point.
3. Speak Up
Do not be afraid to say something when a friend, colleague, or teacher says something you disagree with. Speaking up does not require us to argue or push for debate. Pause, take a deep breath, and offer a differing opinion. You could ask a question or bring up a factoid you read: “But what about …?” or “I read something else about that….” Perhaps you’ll be able to find some common ground or clarify a misunderstanding. Even if you still disagree, it’s important to have the confidence to contribute to the marketplace of ideas. If we believe in a transcendent truth about a particular issue, we aren’t doing our neighbors any favors by not sharing what we believe to be true.
4. Listen Up
Do not dominate the conversation. After you have shared, allow the other person to respond, with full attention and without interruption. Maybe you will learn something about an issue or about what makes the person take the other side. Maybe you will hear thoughtless prattle. Either way, listen close. You can’t refute someone’s beliefs if you don’t know what they are. Restate what they have said to verify their point and to let them know you heard them. You can continue the conversation, but don’t let it devolve.
5. Close Up
In productive debate, you’ll be able to learn from one another and hear new dimensions of the issue at hand. Then, there comes a point when both sides are just restating their case. Listen for that point and begin to close down the conversation before things get argumentative or emotionally charged.
6. Follow Up
Keep your eyes open for an article or book that your friend might find appealing on the issue you have discussed if you think it might help them see your point. Even if the conversation ended without common ground, call or send a note to thank them for the opportunity to share your beliefs and for your relationship with them, whatever that may entail. Even a contentious conversation can become a better place of understanding at the end if treated with a sense of humor and humility.
Penny Young Nance is the author of Feisty & Feminine: A Rallying Cry for Conservative Women. As the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, she leads the largest women’s organization in the country, giving them the tools to take back their culture and make a difference in politics and policy.