Over the last few years we have undergone a dramatic change in how we communicate in America. I have recently been reading books that gathered letters to, and from, military personnel during wars. While the letters written in the eras of the War for Independence and the Civil War were the most eloquent and poetic, it has been interesting to see how even up through the 1980’s years many of the letters were thoughtful and beautifully written. Then when email becoming more available, followed by Facebook, Twitter, texts, and messaging, communication has become more and more casual.
My ministry has been dramatically affected by this trend as I have often been asked by people how to recover relations with someone who used to be a friend until a flurry of electronic messages that escalated into hurt feelings and destructive words. These events first were related to emails, but as that medium falls out of favor, it is more and more related to conversations held by texting, messaging, Facebook, and Twitter.
A week ago, or so, Terri sent me the following link to a blog she follows: (http://www.crucialskills.com/2013/05/antisocial-networks-2/) The blog seems to highlight various writers taking on communication, behavioral, and leadership topics. The link (above) is a post that discusses this subject of communication and social media. The author, Joseph Grenny, gives the same advice I have been giving for years now, but with more authority than I seem to have. He likens communicating through Social Media to looking at our world through a straw, and points out how it’s so limited we can’t help but make bad assumptions about what we see. I invite you to go and read the article for yourself, but there a few thoughts I want to highlight here.
Grenny writes, “Here is my advice for holding a crucial conversation in social media.
1. Don’t. It’s a fool’s errand. You need all the bandwidth you can get to hold a crucial conversation. Why tie your hands behind your back, blindfold yourself, and hop on one leg when you can easily jack up the bandwidth by making a call, using Skype, or meeting with the person face-to-face?
2. Every person a moderator. Debate is fine on social media. If you want to hold a spirited discussion about differing views, social forums can be a great place to view, test, and improve your opinions. However, it is also a great place to teach manners. If no one feels responsible to cry foul when someone violates good manners in public postings, the quality of the dialogue will inevitably degenerate into exhibitionism. It will be a place to get attention through disgraceful antics rather than engage in healthy conversation. I suggest every one of us appoint ourselves as moderators and cry “foul” when anyone crosses the following lines:
a. Personal attack. When someone disparages a participant rather than critiquing an idea, they are not adding value to the conversation.
b. Lazy words. A person who shares logic or data to illustrate why they disagree with an idea is contributing. One who simply dismisses it with judgment words like “stupid” or “irresponsible” is substituting insult for information. It’s a lazy way of attempting to persuade because it required no research or exposition. It’s a way of playing to your base rather than influencing the worthy opponent. (By the way, my very choice to call them “lazy words” is a hypocritical violation of this very point!)
c. Monologue. Someone who is truly interested in learning rather than performing will not just make points, they will ask questions. Their posts will be brief, to the point, and will exhibit curiosity about others’ views, not just demonstrate conviction about their own. They will not take all the airtime with long diatribes, they will be brief, make a single point or two, and then encourage others to share the air with them.
When you see people violate any of these simple manners of spirited and respectful debate, call them out and hold them accountable. Let them know you will either exit or exclude them unless they keep the debate civil and useful. If many of us empower ourselves as moderators, and exert appropriate social influence to call out those who use personal attacks, lazy words, and monologues, we can quickly close the gap between manners and technology. We will retain friends and profit from invigorating dialogue.
3. Trust your gut. We all know the feeling we get when we realize the conversation has just turned crucial, and that we should stop using the medium at hand. The hairs on your arm get prickly. You feel anxious. You type faster. You press the keys harder. Whatever the cue, trust it. At the first sign you need more bandwidth, STOP and change media. Pick up the phone. Jump on a video conference. Or take your most convenient transportation. Whatever you do, quit looking through a straw or you’ll risk losing a friend.” (All emphases added for this post)
As I post this, I hope that the years to come will see some new communication tools that drastically improve the situation for us, but until then, I’m afraid we’re all going to need to take responsibility for ourselves and choose to increase “the bandwidth” of our conversations on our own.