Liberals and conservatives are fundamentally different from each other, and the discrepancies between their personalities make it difficult for the two to intercommunicate; indeed, whereas liberals tend to be more open and concerned with feelings (and as such tend to use more abstract, emotional language, which conservatives tend not to understand), conservatives tend to be more conscientious and concerned with facts (and as such tend to use more concrete, practical language, which liberals tend not to like). However, understanding how each type thinks and speaks, and respecting the differences between them, may enable both to communicate more effectively.
What follows is advice for liberals — principles that, if applied, will enable you to communicate effectively with conservatives such that you improve the probability of getting what you want. Since, presently, liberals want things from conservatives (and not the other way around), the burden of diplomacy is liberals’ to bear, as is the responsibility of communicating effectively. Further, the current liberal methods of screaming, demanding, intimidating, silencing, and imposing are ineffective at generating conservative support for liberal causes as well as for promoting general positivity, health, and wellbeing; in fact, these methods are making everything worse for everyone. So I hope this article provides you with a better method.
💬 Most of the information in this article is derived from my own observations and experiences, so make of it what you will. Where my words are empirically supported, I have included citations. And for what it’s worth, I have a degree in psychology.
Preparing to Speak
Before engaging in conversation with conservatives, you must prepare yourself emotionally for the experience. Enter conversations knowing that conservatives will not feel the same way about issues as you do, nor will they care that you feel a certain way about issues. And decide not to be offended by this; their not-caring about your feelings is not a reflection of heartlessness rather a reflection of pragmatism (which pragmatism is precisely what you lack and what you need to get what you want). Further, decide that you are going to be positive, gracious, and productive, even if the person you are speaking to is not. Remember, your goal is not to win arguments; your goal is to win conservatives. So employ humility, restraint, and tact, and mentally prepare yourself to communicate effectively.
⏩ When speaking to conservatives, be positive and constructive, keep it simple, remain on topic, offer solutions, ask questions, and concede. Also, learn how to reason.
Be positive, courteous, and constructive.
Although it is sometimes necessary to criticize or deconstruct, avoid doing so excessively (and always use minimal necessary force), and avoid being rude, demeaning, patronizing, or insulting. Further, consider that conservatives value order and hierarchy, so, where relevant and appropriate, respect the status of the individual or group with whom you are speaking, even if you find them deplorable. Doing so will demonstrate to them your sensitivity to their values, which will likely endear them — even if only minimally — to your cause.
Keep it simple.
Whereas liberals tend to think in loops and abstracts, conservatives tend to think in lines and concretes. So go from 1 to 2 to 3, not from 1 to 4 to 29, and especially not from 1 to 12/6 to (3⁴−54)/9.
Remain on topic.
Given their higher levels of openness, liberals tend to be creative. As such, ideas tend to move freely about their minds, forming connections that are often difficult for conservatives to immediately comprehend. This makes it easy for liberals to veer off topic, often without realizing it, and for conversations between liberals and conservatives to derail. What’s more, since conservatives tend to think linearly, they may perceive veering as avoidance or deflection, thus engendering suspicion about the motives of those who veer. So remain on topic.
💡 To remain on topic in formal settings, consider creating bullet points for discussion, or soliciting the help of a moderator. In informal settings, consider asking questions such as “Am I being clear?” or “Where did I lose you?” Further, knowing thyself, when accusations of veering or petitions for clarity arise, simply accept them, and then try to be clearer in your articulations. Remember, your communication is effective only to the degree that it is understood, and you need it to be understood to get what you want. So be patient, and always clarify.
If you want people to do things, you have to enable them — and you have to make it easy for them too. You cannot simply make demands of conservatives and expect them to follow through; they won’t. (Would you?) As such, for every problem that you identify, propose a simple solution and offer your absolute assistance; otherwise, conservatives will both perceive and dismiss you as just another problem. Further, conservatives value resourcefulness and independence, so the more you can demonstrate to them that you’re resourceful and independent, the more likely they will be to support you.
Asking questions is a sign of trust, humility, and respect; it demonstrates that you lack knowledge that the other person has, and that you are willing to learn from them. Conservatives are practical, and they like to be useful. They also like people who are useful. So give them an opportunity both to be useful and to make you (more) useful by asking them questions relevant to their interests and expertise. If they can teach you something new or help you solve some problem, even something small, they will feel fulfilled. And if you can demonstrate gratitude for their assistance, they will be much more willing — and therefore much more likely — to help you solve other problems. Further, and when appropriate, asking questions enables you to organically counter their responses without immediately placing them on the defensive; indeed, if they know that you’re trying to learn from them (and not trap them or prove them wrong), they will be more willing to consider your objections (and maybe even learn from you too).
Let conservatives win a few. If your goal is to demonstrate superiority, then you will try to win every point of every argument, which will produce only stubborn and even hostile responses to your claims. However, if your goal is to demonstrate unity and a willingness to work together to solve problems (which you have to do if you want to solve problems), then you must give credit where credit is due, admit your shortcomings, and concede your failures. Conservatives value honesty and humility, so you needn’t fear the consequences of being honest and humble; they will support you if they know that your intentions are pure.
Learn how to reason.
Per my observations, liberals tend to make bad arguments, and conservatives are generally intolerable of bad arguments. For example, liberals tend to declare, in the absence of supporting evidence, that the United States of America is systemically racist. In response, conservatives ask for supporting evidence, to which liberals respond, “You’re all fucking racists.”
It is impossible to reason with people who are unreasonable. So be reasonable, and learn how to reason. The following three tips should help:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are failures in reasoning that render arguments invalid. A common fallacious liberal argument is the following (or similar): White supremacists voted for Trump. You voted for Trump. Therefore, you are a White supremacist. That White supremacists voted for Trump does not make everyone who voted for Trump a White supremacist. This is like saying that, since all dogs are mammals and since all cats are mammals, all cats are dogs; or that, since you like music and since I like music, I am you. It’s just nonsense, and reasoning like this is foolish and naive. So avoid doing it. 💬 For more information on and examples of logical fallacies, visit this Wikipedia page or watch Jill Bearup’s excellent YouTube video in which she concisely describes 31 of them.
- Avoid making ad hominem attacks. In terms of personality, liberals tend to be higher than conservatives in neuroticism. This means that liberals tend to experience both more and greater negative emotion than conservatives do. Coupled with their higher levels of openness, then (and thus tending to interpret the world through their emotions), liberals are more likely to experience distress when encountering people they find deplorable or information they find disagreeable. Thus, it can be easy for liberals in such situations to feel as if they are being personally attacked (even though they’re not), which feeling can cause them to defend themselves in kind, with personal attacks. In logic and reasoning, such personal attacks are called “ad hominem” (Latin, “to the person”) attacks. However, ad hominem attacks are irrelevant in arguments, as they fail to address the facts of the arguments. For example, a conservative may list evidence of only two sexes in humans, to which a (sensitive) liberal may respond, “Transphobe!” This response is useless to the argument, though, as it fails to address the conservative’s claims as well as deflects the liberal’s responsibility of refuting the conservative’s evidence. What’s more, people tend to employ ad hominem attacks when they are defeated and have nothing left to argue, so such attacks are usually dead giveaways of error, ignorance, and incompetence. So avoid making them.💡 If you are easily offended by information that you find disagreeable, simply recognize this as a personal tendency and not as an indication of malice by others.
- Use data to support your arguments. As has become the motto of conservatives (thanks to Ben Shapiro), “facts don’t care about your feelings.” However, the truth of this statement is universal, so play conservatives at their own damn game and use facts to support your claims. Conservatives will gladly engage you in battle (discussion), and you will earn their respect for dealing them a good fight (argument). “Good form!” they will all exclaim as you smite them with data.
⏩ When petitioning conservatives, begin with thanks and praise, establish commonality, introduce the problem, expound on the problem, offer a solution, and ask for input and feedback.
The current liberal pitch to conservatives is as follows: The United States of America is a disgusting, selfish, systemically racist and sexist, capitalist stain on Mother Earth, and all of you are to blame for it, and we’re tired of this shit, so get the fuck out of our way or we’ll destroy you and your families. It’s no wonder, then, that conservatives object (and that radicals insurrect). However, if the liberal pitch were more respectful and diplomatic, then conservatives might allow themselves to be persuaded. To this end, what follows are basic steps for petitioning conservatives, which steps, if adhered to, will increase the probability of persuading conservatives to liberal causes.
1. Begin with thanks and praise.
Set the tone of your petitions by expressing gratitude and offering praise relevant to the circumstances or your aims. For example, “Thank you, senator. We appreciate your willingness to engage us on this challenging topic. You raise some great points.” Doing so will open the hearts of those you petition by demonstrating to them that you recognize their efforts and are willing to play nice. If you show them that you respect them and value their political and ideological contributions (or even just their time and attention), they will be more likely to return these sentiments. If you demonstrate to conservatives that you are their ally, they will be less likely to regard you as their enemy.
2. Establish a baseline commonality.
Fundamentally, liberals and conservatives want the same things: health, happiness, peace, prosperity, freedom, and fulfillment. So identify in your arguments the relevant fundamental commonality between you and the people you are petitioning and establish this as a baseline value for your discussions.
3. Introduce the problem.
In plain and simple terms, and without patronizing, demeaning, or blaming, simply state the problem.
4. Expound on the problem.
Concisely, explain why the problem matters — both to you and to the people you are petitioning. Explain how the problem stifles or is inconsistent with your baseline common value.
💡 To make your arguments more relevant to conservatives, consider framing them in terms of conservative values and ideals. (For more insight into framing, review the classic research of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.)
5. Offer a solution.
Demonstrate your commitment to solving the problem, and enable the people you are petitioning to act on your ideas, by presenting a plan.
6. Ask for input and feedback.
Provide an opportunity for the people you are petitioning to own the solution to the problem (thereby increasing the probability of actually solving the problem) by asking for input, and demonstrate humility and integrity by soliciting feedback.
What follows are example petitions that employ the steps I have just described. Note that these examples are illustrative — meaning, I am not asserting or endorsing courses of action; I am merely illustrating language.
Thank you, senator. We appreciate your willingness to engage us on this challenging topic. You raise some great points. And to the rest of the panel, we thank you all for being here.
To our Republican peers, we know how you feel about the sanctity of life, and we appreciate and respect your values in this regard. We also know that our values on this topic conflict with yours, and may even appear to some of you as immoral. However, we do not wish to make a moral argument today; indeed, although there are moral implications for any decision regarding abortion law, the problem of abortion itself is practical: hundreds of thousands of American women every year are having abortions. And as far as we can tell, the primary reason for this is, not because hundreds of thousands of American women are immoral, but because hundreds of thousands of American woman and their partners lack proper resources for family planning.
Data collected by the CDC demonstrates that unintended pregnancy is the primary contributor to abortions. This same data also suggests that women of lower socioeconomic status, or SES, tend to become unintentionally pregnant more than women of higher SES, and as such tend to have more abortions. And although the reasons for this are not entirely clear, what is clear is that the rate of unintended pregnancies among women of low SES significantly decreases when such women are given access to family-planning resources (Dehlendorf et al., 2010; Amaral et al., 2007). As such, we have created a plan that (1) outlines empirically validated methods for effectively educating people in low SES communities about reproductive health, (2) includes a plan for providing reproductive healthcare benefits to low-income individuals and families, and (3) provides a budget for these aims.
We’d love to hear your input.
We believe, per the second amendment of our constitution, that the American people have the right to bear arms. We are aware of the conditions in which the second amendment was drafted, and we are grateful for the wisdom and foresight of our founding fathers in amending our constitution as such. However, we also believe that, in addition to the right to bear arms, the American people have the responsibility to bear arms responsibly. As such, we have drafted what to us are simple and reasonable firearms regulations, and we would love for you to review them. By working together on this issue, we can preserve the rights and freedoms of our people while ensuring that every home, school, and business in our country is safe.
We love our servicepeople. They protect us from harm, defend us from offense, and save us from circumstance. However, recent events have shaken our nation’s trust in our law enforcement; indeed, many of our people feel less protected by law enforcement than others, and, whether real or perceived, a large portion of these people believe that they are targeted by police for the color of their skin. That any American believes this makes us sad and ashamed, as such beliefs are inconsistent with our expectations of our servicepeople, and antithetical to our cultural values. Our gut response to this issue is to reduce funding for police, thus decreasing the overall number of police officers, and thus decreasing both the potential for and the actual number of incidents of police violence. However, we recognize that there may be other, better ways of solving this problem, and we would love to hear your ideas.
I hope you found this information useful, and that it enabled and encouraged you to communicate effectively with conservatives. If you have questions, just send me emails. And if you’d like to share with me your experience incorporating these principles, please do.