In our Hard NoCs blog post How to Keep Social Media from Eating Your Life we recommended three questions to ask yourself before joining a discussion online.
The purpose of this post is to help you keep your cool if your decision is yes.
The truths, characteristics, principles, and essential questions of Communication-Based Leadership are a general guide, but here are six tips to keep in your hip pocket for quick reference when things get real fast.
Be Nice Until it’s Time to Not be Nice
This is the Roadhouse Rule.
Make being offended a choice, and choose it rarely.
Even if someone writes something with the intent to offend, that’s on them.
When you read something you perceive as intended to offend, ask a question to verify you are correct.
If it turns out the intent was to offend, don’t take the bait. You win win by choosing not to take offense.
Just… be nice — and enjoy the opportunity to show folks in the gallery how it’s done.
(How will you now when it’s time to not be nice? You won’t… Also, I thought you’d be bigger. You probably get that a lot.)
Don’t Read in Your Own Voice
Things like sarcasm and condescension are often perceived when not intended. Plus, if you’re feeling snarky and read what someone else wrote in your own voice, you’ll tend tend to perceive snark.
Even when intended however, those things are generally about the sender, not the receiver.
Someone being sarcastic or condescending doesn’t change you.
If you think someone is being sarcastic or condescending, ignore it. Or ask a sincere question to clarify what was intended.
Either way, remember the Roadhouse Rule.
Take Words at Face Value
This is linked to not reading in your own voice and directly addresses the challenge of communicating in a venue that strips away the context of non-verbal cues.
When reading someone’s words, try to interpret them based on the meaning of those words, not what you think the person who wrote them might, maybe, possibly mean.
If their meaning is unclear, rather than choosing an interpretation and assuming you got it right, ask for clarification.
And remember the Roadhouse Rule.
Make the Distinction Between Imply and Infer
The person writing implies. As the reader of their words, you infer. If you assume what you infer is what was implied, you’ll often find you are inaccurate*.
Rather than assuming your inference is correct, ask for clarification. That way you can respond to what the writer means rather that what you think, feel believe they might, maybe, possibly, mean.
Also, remember the Roadhouse Rule.
Eschew Absolutes and Their Close Cousin, Hyperbole
Yes, there is a built-in trap in this one, hence my use of “eschew” rather than “avoid.” I’m not suggesting you should never use absolutes or hyperbole, but when you do, do it on purpose.
The trouble with absolutes and hyperbole is, they are often (not always — see what I did there?) inaccurate* and easily proven so. When someone uses words like every, all, always, never, or none, it only takes one example to prove their statement false.
When someone uses an absolute or hyperbole, ask a question to clarify their meaning and then — you guessed it — remember the Roadhouse Rule.
Ask Honest, Sincere, Open Ended, Clarifying Questions
If you read this far you know I already covered this one. When participants in discourse just throw statements at each other, that’s not a conversation. It is a collision of cross-talk monversations. To create civil discourse, ask more often than you tell.
A Final Thought
When interracting with someone whose opinions are opposed to yours — especially if you determine they really are being antagonistic and it’s not likely you’ll change their mind (or shift it even a smidge) — give some serious thought to just stepping away.
If you decide engaging makes best use of your finite communication capacity, keep in mind you’ll likely have the most positive influence on those who are observing, not the person you’re engaging.
And of course, remember the Roadhouse Rule.
*Accuracy is a powerful principle of Communication-Based Leadership. Truth is relative and based in belief, but facts are, well, factual — so ground your arguments in fact rather than truth.
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Cliff holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in leadership. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he completed operational deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and Kandahar and Helmand, Afghanistan. He has led multi-national and inter-agency teams including approximately one year on loan from the Corps as Director of Policy, Planning, and Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. He also directly advised the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on public and media engagement regarding national security matters for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication. Today he puts that experience to work helping people become the kind of leaders they would want to follow.