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Life skills: Friends or family members say they aren't going to vote. How should you respond?

By Hannah Herrera Greenspan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Q: What should you say to friends and family members who say they won't be voting in the upcoming presidential election?

A: We have two things going on here: a relationship and our own political convictions. Our goal is to navigate this conversation so that we, first and foremost, build the relationship and ultimately can share our convictions in ways that feel safe.

One of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship is for both people to feel "seen," so this conversation has to start with expressing a genuine interest in wanting to better understand your friends.

After we've shown that we've heard our friends, it's also important that we feel seen, which includes expressing why we think it's important to vote. We need to make sure this continues as a conversation, not a lecture, so we need to stop talking and give the conversation back to them by asking them a question.

For example, if someone shares that they aren't voting because they feel their vote won't change anything, it might look like this: "I totally know that feeling: The outcome in my state is pretty much a foregone conclusion. But, if it helps any, to me it's a matter of practicing what it means to show up in a relationship. So voting is my little way of reminding myself that I need to show up in relationships - this time in my relationship to my community and to our country. It is a small way to symbolically do something that matters to me. If you were to end up deciding to vote, what might it symbolically mean to you?"

- Shasta Nelson, friendship expert and author of "The Business of Friendship"

A: We live in a country where it's a privilege to be able to vote freely for a leader. However, there is no doubt that this election is going to be riddled with confusion and doubt. We are hearing that people are going to leave the country if a particular person gets voted in, and some are saying they may skip voting altogether.


It's important to do what you feel is right, but chances are we're not going to convince someone else what they need to do. Some people may be looking for attention and attempting to start a movement among their peers, while others are truly despondent about the choices. Either way, it's not up to you to change their minds.

You do have the opportunity to discuss your position and listen thoughtfully to theirs. Politics is one of the conversations that lead to discord at the holiday table, but we are in a season when every vote really does matter.

If you feel the need to say something, you can be direct and let them know that their decision is disappointing to you because you know they care about their country and the community. They may be feeling overwhelmed, isolated and depressed.

These are difficult times, and it requires adults to make difficult decisions. Remind them that "doing something" always feels better than "doing nothing," and in the end, they will most likely feel better if they attempt to make a difference. Don't nag or harass people about their decision. Ultimately, it's their choice.

- Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas

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