• Ask questions. If a friend or acquaintance is vocal about a view you don’t agree with, approach the conversation in a non-aggressive, non-directive way, says Geller: “Start out by asking for the other person’s opinion—‘Can you explain why you feel that way?’—and then give your own opinion in response.”
• Acknowledge their view. “Respond back to them by saying, ‘I understand you’re coming from a different place and why you feel that way. Here’s my background and why I feel differently,’” says Geller. Admitting that everyone has their own biases may help the other person see your side, as well.
• Take it offline. It can be extremely difficult to express compassion over social media, says Geller, especially in a semi-public forum like Facebook. (While he is a strong proponent of talking socially about politics, he’s not a fan of posting political views on social media.) If you really feel that someone’s online behavior is jeopardizing your relationship, he says, it’s best to put election talk on hold—and, yes, maybe even hide their posts temporarily—until you can sit down face-to-face.
• Give advice, if you must. Have a friend who’s constantly sharing incendiary memes or blatantly false articles? You might send them a friendly note, says Geller: “I’d say something like, ‘I’ve been reading your posts and they’re coming across pretty strong, and you might be influencing some attitudes about you that are unwarranted.’” Hopefully, he or she will take your advice and tone it down.
• Be reflective, not reactive. Finally, make sure you’re following the same ground rules you’d expect of others, he says. And think twice before posting something that may generate harsh feedback or land you in an exhausting back-and-forth argument. Most of the time, you’ll be glad you held back.
• If all else fails, downgrade your relationship. If this election is bringing out personality traits in people you simply can’t accept—if an acquaintance or relative is posting racist or sexist rants, for example, and isn’t able to realize why they’re offensive—it may be time to reevaluate their status in your life, and in your social feed. “There are certainly times when more interaction just won’t help and can, in fact, hurt,” says Schenk, who adds that being a good “frenemy” requires a commitment on both sides. “No one should tolerate speech or behavior that is discriminatory, abusive or otherwise morally reprehensible to them.” (Check out advice for breaking up with a friend here.)
Schenk, whose research focuses on collaborative planning and decision making, also recommends mending damaged relationships, if possible, after the election is over and tensions aren’t quite so high.
In fact, he’s named November 9 National Frenemies Day. “It should be like a detox day, when we sit down and have coffee with people we’ve avoided or have been arguing with, and really start to engage in conversations,” he says.
Schenk’s best advice, though, can be put to use now: Keep it civil, and don’t get sucked into the mudslinging that’s consumed so much of this campaign.
“The vitriol and animosity this election season really have reached new heights,” he says. “We need to find ways to appreciate each other’s humanity, even when we disagree.”