By JEREMY HEIGHTON
Executive Director, NSBIA
I LEARNED A LONG TIME AGO that a great idea, communicated with the best of intentions, can be interpreted in a very different way when the receiver is looking for an opportunity to vent.
Recently, there have been stories in local media regarding a vast array of hot topics such as: needle buy-backs, politicians retiring, affordable housing, and more.
Some people in our community engage in thoughtful exchanges. They ask questions to seek more information and can help to shape the future direction of things. It seems lately, however, that others are seeking an opportunity to prove that they not only do they have an extensive library of expletives, they know how to use them in a way that completely derails public conversation.
What is Effective Communication?
Effective Communication is a process that results in the sharing of information in a manner and intent that allows all parties to connect, learn, and grow through the exchange.
This doesn’t mean that dissenting opinions are excluded. In fact, it encourages the use of questions and answers to get to a balanced place regarding a common understanding.
What does Effective Communication look like?
When commenting on community issues to others, instead of using harsh words and insults, consider asking questions to gain more information about the situation at hand.
For example, when discussing the topic of needle buy-backs, if you feel as if you don’t agree with the program, instead of hurling insults to those with addiction issues, you could say, “Can anyone tell me why these programs are needed, and why we seem to give so much to these people?”
This stimulates conversation and builds understanding. Insults and harsh language shuts down engagement by anyone who is cautious, uncertain about information, or who wishes to avoid conflict.
Why do we see so much negativity?
The Internet is an amazing phenomenon. It has the power to engage and isolate, to educate and misinform, to rally and destroy. It’s a study in contrasts.
Studies have shown that anonymity (being behind a screen instead of face-to-face) only increases our ability to be nasty to those in our community.
A perfect storm of factors come together to engender the rudeness and aggression seen in the comments’ sections of Web pages, Markman said.
First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors.
Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper)…
From Scientific American,
I have found that people who could actually engage in meaningful ways choose not to, in order to avoid being berated, condemned or reviled by others. This need for social acceptance drives apart the reality of what may be happening or thought in a community from the negative, vitreous venting of angry words.
How can we reclaim social discussions?
I think we have a duty to reclaim the conversations in our community. We should be working to utilize electronic tools to increase conversation in a more effective way. How do we do this?
1) Ask questions – In recent weeks I’ve engaged in more discussions and intentionally posted information meant to inform and enlighten. The goal is to educate those who may lack a clear understanding of the complex nature of issues so they can make better decisions and see their opportunity to help resolve issues instead of deepen them.
2) Promote a more moderate point of view – This is something I see a few brave souls do. When faced with toxic, angry language, responding in a positive and educational way often disarms people who think they are anonymous. It forces them to realize that they are talking to a person who is now responding and removes the braveness of anonymity.
3) See the brightness – Use your positive and community-building focus to see the bright side. This doesn’t mean ignore issues, it means look at ways to move through an issue and attempt to create the best outcome for all.
4) Understand our blessings – Many people in North America are precipitously close to being homeless. They are financially leveraged to a point where one or two missed paycheques could be disastrous.
Imagine if you became homeless tomorrow. How would it feel? Would you be racked with guilt and shame or robbed of your self confidence?
How would you feel, if you finally found a space to curl up to sleep and the first person to walk by called you a loser?
Empathy and humility are powerful tools to use as we work toward building our community. Just ask anyone whose loved one has fallen to drug addiction, found themselves homeless, or are otherwise in dire straits.
5) Rethink that comment – Sometimes we get angry or frustrated. We’ve all been there. Instead of posting that toxic tweet, consider getting involved. Get involved in community planning, volunteer with an non-profit, or contribute to one of our amazing social agencies. Become an agent of change, not a critic of it.
I think it’s time we all learned to work together to find harmony and understand that while we are not all in the same place, what separates us from so many other places in the world, is our ability and capacity to care.
Jeremy Heighton is executive director of the North Shore Business Improvement Association. He has lectured on leadership and business around the world.