The internet can be a pretty vicious place from time to time, and I think we’ve all kind of accepted that’s just the way it is. I know I have. But I was re-reading Dale Carnegie’s wonderful How to Win Friends and Influence People yesterday, and it occurred to me: It doesn’t have to be like this. It could be better. Moreover, if the internet is going to inch closer to being our primary form of communication with one another, it should be better.
So we’re going to fix this thing together, you and me, because Uncle Dale’s not here to help us out. As I’ll continually say, I don’t hold myself up as either an expert or a shining example of the principles I’ll extol the virtues of here. But I’m trying, and I hope you will too. My hope is that you’ll spread these pieces around with the social networking and word-of-mouth avenues available to you and, together, we can all make things a little nicer.
Part One: Arguing
Now, let’s talk about arguing on the internet. Namely: Try to think back to the number of times you’ve had a e-debate with someone and, at the end, thought “Wow, I’m glad I did that. I’m better off.” Never, right? Sure you might have gotten a chuckle after having gotten a particularly good zing in, but, on the whole, it’s just never a worthwhile practice. “But Justin!” I hear you saying, “sometimes people are just so wrong.”
Listen, you think I haven’t been there? I have to read comments on stories about video games as part of my job. You think I don’t see people saying utterly repellent shit day in, day out? Of course I do. But (and, again, I’m far from perfect in this) whenever possible, I try to find other ways to win people to my way of thinking. In fact, I think Uncle Dale has a set of rules for doing just that. Let’s look at a few of them, shall we?
Win people to your way of thinking
- The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
- If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Begin in a friendly way.
- Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
- Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
- Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
- Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
- Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
- Appeal to the nobler motives.
Do you know how far all of us on the internet could go if we followed those rules? Several of them could use some more explanation (you’ll have to buy the book for that) but what an amazing start it would be if we could stop correcting people. I’ll admit, it feels like a pretty radical idea, to stop telling people they’re wrong, but it’s amazingly powerful. I’m paraphrasing Uncle Dale here: If you tell someone they’re wrong, especially in front of other people, then they feel embarrassed and they like you less. You might feel good about yourself, but it’s a fleeting kind of satisfaction.
Here’s an example: When you see a funny error in something you read online, is your first impulse to Tweet about it and have a good laugh at that person’s expense? I know it often is for me. But consider this: If you were to politely email the person and say this “I’m sure it was just an oversight (I myself make them all the time) but there’s a slight error in your second paragraph. It’s unlike the high standards you normally keep, so I knew you’d want to correct it as soon as possible. Keep up the good work!”
With the first method, you may have given friends and followers a fleeting smile, but in the process you’ve shown yourself to be snarky and self-important, and that’s at best. At worst, you’ve embarrassed the writer in error in front of tens, hundreds maybe thousands of people. With the second method, you may have convinced the real human being at the other end of the line that you’re a kind, trustworthy person, perhaps even a friend. I ask you: Which is more valuable?
Here’s my challenge to you: The next time someone tries to argue with you or pick a fight, see if you can win them over as a friend. Afterward, compare it to other internet arguments you’ve had and tell me it doesn’t feel way, way better.