How To Constructively Talk To Undecided Voters


With the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum just days away, many Australians are still unsure of how they plan to vote on October 14. A myriad of reasons has been given from both sides of the debate as to why you should vote Yes or No.

But no amount of impassioned speeches by politicians, rallies or advertisements are likely to truly shift the needle one way or the other before Saturday. And that’s because many have tuned out from the ‘‘ official’ ’ platforms.

The only people who really have the ear of undecided voters are friends, family and colleagues. In this age of mass cynicism and social media schisms, it’s realworld relationships that still have the ability to cut through.

But how can you have a conversation about this topic without ending a friendship or getting uninvited from the family Christmas? The key is to leverage the power of relationships and dive into conversations, especially with the 13 per cent of Australians who say they are still undecided. That’s your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, or if you’re in that group yourself, your friends, neighbours and siblings.

If this prospect fills you with dread, that’s understandable. These discussions often increase animosity and polarisation. But getting them right can be transformational. Firstly, show respect. It’s easy to believe those who disagree with us are either stupid or malicious. Signalling disrespect is a surefire way to kill any possibility of persuasion, and when that happens, constructive conversation is over.

One way to show respect is to listen – and I mean really listen. Often, people become belligerent when they don’t feel heard. Just listening carefully, asking a few questions and repeating back a summary of what they’ve said can be transformative, and it gives you a chance to understand where they’re coming from, even if you don’t agree with it.

It’s also important to listen before you share your views. When we hear something we don’t agree with, our natural tendency is to immediately tell them we disagree. But, this sets you at loggerheads from the outset. Hold back and hear them out.

When listening to their reasoning, you may find some of it will be authentic and some will be post-hoc rationalisations of deeper unstated motivations. You can spot these because even when you show that it’s false, it doesn’t change their mind. That means it was never the real motivation for their beliefs, just a distraction.

The trick is not to challenge or fact check post-hoc rationalisations head-on , but to change the way they perceive the issue in the first place. Once you’ve generated enough goodwill, offer an alternative perspective on the issue and offer it as your reason for voting the way you intend to.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve done about all anyone can in a single conversation. Let them mull over your perspective, and perhaps go deeper in the next conversation.

Of course, there will be times when the conversation goes off the rails. Maybe your discipline cracks and you scoff at a remark or perhaps they refuse to engage in good faith. Maybe they just want to troll you to get a reaction. If any of these things happen, change the topic to focus on other shared values – family, sport, food, whatever brings you together. Perhaps in the next conversation they won’t feel the need to get defensive, or offensive.

Good conversations, particularly persuasive ones, take work. But if even a few unsure voters are swayed, it could shift the tide. And given the Voice is about being heard, it’s rather fitting each of our voices could help make the difference.

Dr Tim Dean is a senior philosopher
at The Ethics Centre, an independent
not-for-profit organisation.

Copyright © 2023 The Sydney Morning Herald (Text and image)

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons
Skip to toolbar