Discussing politics, whether with friends or with strangers, can be difficult. But taking political opinions online often turns downright ugly.
In our latest report, the Center for Media Engagement looked at whether making political points with humility can help bring people together. The study tested whether writing a post with humility affected what people thought of both the post and the post’s writer.
We found that humility can help people bridge divides, making it a useful approach for news organisations looking to uplift content or comments that build bridges.
The effects of writing with humility
The study asked participants to read a political post on one of four issues where Democrats and Republicans hold different views. The posts varied based on whether they favoured or opposed the policy and whether they were written with high or low levels of humility.
We found that posts written with humility were appreciated by both Democrats and Republicans. When using humility, the author was seen as more likable and intelligent by those with opposing views.
Additionally, the posts elicited less skepticism toward the argument or poster from those who didn’t share the author’s perspective. People were also more willing to engage with the author by sharing an opposing view or by expressing interest in working across divides to address the issue.
Putting humility into practice
Though this study focused on making political points online, writing with humility is a tactic that likely has broader value. Newsrooms can utilise this strategy when writing articles, engaging with the public, or highlighting comments that promote understanding.
What does it mean to display humility? It means using language that acknowledges other perspectives, displays openness to differing opinions, and admits limitations to one’s own views. This can be expressed by using phrases such as:
- “Please correct me if I’m wrong …”
- “I know it’s a complicated issue …”
- “From what I’ve read …”
- “My understanding is that …”
- “I acknowledge that …”
More tactics for discussing politics across divides
In addition to writing with humility, Center for Media Engagement research has identified several other tactics for communicating across divides. If looking to highlight content or comments that bring people together, journalists can keep five strategies in mind that help people connect in spite of opposing political views:
- Focus on the people, not the politics. Be respectful of other views and realise politics don’t define people. Use your own experiences to help others connect with your viewpoint.
- Find common ground. Focus on shared beliefs and be open to listening. Ask questions and try to understand where the person is coming from.
- Stick to the facts and avoid confrontation. Present evidence, limit emotion, and avoid confrontational language. If a conversation gets heated, try adding some humour or taking a break.
- Be an advocate rather than an opponent. Focus on making your point by showing the strengths of your argument rather than by picking apart the weaknesses of the other view.
- Pick your battles. Focus discussions on policy instead of party. Though some people may identify with a political party, it doesn’t mean they agree with all of that party’s beliefs.
You can find the study here.