Saturday, August 27, 2011

I can't explain

This blog title was the name of a 1960s hit by The Who. It is also the key to using social media without turning into a boor. Let me, um, explain...

Say someone posts something. Someone else doesn't like it - and posts a comment saying so. Then the first person responds by explaining their position. The second person still doesn't like it. Invariably the first person usually keeps explaining, and explaining, and explaining some more.

Does it work? Never.

When people don't agree with you, online or in the real world, you can't explain. At least at first. If someone doesn't like your political position, explaining it further will not change their mind. If what you posted offended someone, explaining it will only make you sound defensive. And if someone is ranting, explaining your rational position usually leads to more ranting.

If you want to see an example of this in action, look no further than the comments section of just about any online news story. Some troll posts something that annoys people, someone else takes offense and responds, the troll responds with more trollishness, and they go back and forth at it until everyone is exhausted and gives up. Does anyone ever "see the light" in these discussions? Nope.

So how can you respond to someone else's negativity online? You really only have three choices:

1) Apologize. Apologizing when you offend someone does not diminish you. It enhances you. Unfortunately, most people react the opposite way because they do not get this.

2) Own your truth. If you firmly believe what you write, and someone else disagrees with you, don't try to convince them they are wrong – convince them how firmly you believe in yourself. There is all the difference in the world between "Here are X reasons why I am correct" versus "I respect your view. I see why you feel that way. And I have a different view."

3) Walk away. For example, lots of people post reviews of my books in places like Most of them are just ducky. Recently, one wasn't very complimentary at all. My response? No response. First, I respect whatever the marketplace thinks of my wares – but more important, nothing I could possibly say would matter. So often, the best answer of all is the lack of one.

All of these revolve around the subtle difference between engaging people versus defending yourself. One approach works and the other doesn't. If you feel differently, you would have to somehow explain it to me. No, wait, scratch that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to influence me

Do you ever have conversations like this? Someone asks what you think about their pet issue. Whatever it is. Then if you gently, politely, ever-so-slightly disagree with any part of it, the following happens: their eyes narrow into slits, they loudly repeat their views in a half-shout/half-hiss, or they ask you some pointed rhetorical question ("Well, that must mean you are one of them, right?")

Now, here is a pop quiz: What do you think of the other person's viewpoint after this exchange? Here are three choices:

a) You are suddenly transformed and now see the wisdom of the other person's argument.

b) You appreciate the chance for a frank exchange of ideas.

c) You are silently whispering to yourself, "OK, take three steps back from the crazy person and don't make any false moves..."

It isn't just individuals who fall prey to this. Try donating to a political party some time – any party – and then start reading the breathless letters they send you about those awful, horrible people on the other side who will stop at nothing to completely ruin life as we know it – unless you send us more money. (And obviously it doesn't work because next week, by golly, they are at it again.) I often wish we could lock the letter-writers from each of the major parties together in a room sometime and watch what happens.

Of course, unless you happen to drink their particular Kool-Aid, all of these people are about as persuasive as spam e-mail. And many of them don't even see that blurry line where their passion for a cause or an issue turns them into boors who can no longer discuss it rationally.

Most of us need to form opinions in our own time and space, and proselytizing scares us off. If you really want to influence me, learn to have a respectful two-way dialogue that understands other viewpoints, because that is the only way minds are ever really changed. Otherwise you will preach exclusively to your own choir, and your passion will be completely wasted.