Alert
Close

Join us at AARP's 2015 Life@50+ National Event and Expo in sunny Miami.  Learn more

AARP The Magazine

Stand Your Ground Without Hurting Feelings: How to Talk Hot-Button Topics With Friends

Photo showing The O'Reilly Factor. Marlo Thomas on how to get along with people who have different politics than you.

Phil Donahue once calmly said to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly during a debate, "Loud doesn't mean right." — Illustration by Gluekit. Photos: Foxnews.com

En español | There's an old saying: Never discuss politics or religion at dinner. I'm not sure where that rule was invented, but it certainly wasn't in my childhood home, where loud conversations were as much a staple at mealtime as salt and pepper.

See also: Moms are better than dads at money talks 

But after a lifetime of heated debate, I've begun to realize that with age comes a kind of temperance, both in how we express ourselves and how we listen to opposing viewpoints. And I've found that we can get along with people we disagree with, provided we follow a few simple rules.

Keep it quiet

Despite the high-decibel exchanges we routinely witness on cable TV, yelling gets you nowhere. Or as my husband, Phil, once calmly said to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly during a debate, "Loud doesn't mean right." Humans are defensive creatures, but if we work to keep the flame on simmer, we can keep the conversation from dangerously boiling over.

Don't take the bait

The best arguers know your hot buttons — and exactly how to push them. I'm a devout environmentalist, yet my cousin Mike is always rhapsodizing to me about his gas-guzzler. I eventually figured out that he does this just to get a rise out of me. Now I don't give him that pleasure.

Stay on task

I was once on a panel about equal pay for women with my pal Gloria Steinem when, out of the blue, our adversary began talking about immigration. Gloria didn't miss a beat. "That's another matter we can talk about later," she said, " but for now, let's get back to why women make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man." It was a deft move that you can try — you'll be surprised how quickly your friend will abandon a diversionary ploy when confronted.

Listen as well as you talk

Hard as it is for most of us to believe, we're not the only person who feels passionately about an issue. I remember a dinner party at Barbara Walters' home where I went to the mat with a guest about the Iraq War, which I did not support. But I was spellbound when she began telling me about her family's long history of military service. It didn't change my opinion about the war, but it opened my eyes to what it meant to her.

Accept that we're all different

An uncomfortable conversation can make you question your friend's moral fabric and possibly even the friendship itself. "Do I really like him after all?" you think. When faced with that dilemma, I remind myself that none of us is perfect and none of us is always right (despite what we might tell our spouses).

Know when to let go

The headlines may change every day, but friendships—good friendships—are lifelong. There are relatively few topics that are worth losing a friend over. So if you're out to dinner with a dear pal and you get into a political argument, save yourself the trouble and order dessert. Affairs of state can sometimes wait. Ice cream can't.

Actress, author and activist Marlo Thomas blogs at marlothomas.com.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Live Nation

Members save 25% or more when buying tickets in groups of four from Ticketmaster.

Tanger Outlets

Members can get a free Tanger Coupon Book with discount offers from top brand names.

Member Benefit AARP Regal 2

Members pay $8 for Regal ePremiere tickets purchased online. Conditions apply.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change. 

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points

This program is supported by a generous grant from Toyota to AARP Foundation.

*Upon completion, you may be eligible to receive an auto insurance discount. Other restrictions apply.

Consult your agent for details.