Let’s talk some more about the negative atmosphere that seems to permeate most aspects of life these days.

Noted business leader Martin Zwilling recently wrote about how to work with people different from you. I will borrow one of his techniques in addition to listing my own below, but first a little information to set things up.

As we’ve discussed before, the tragic events of this past weekend was the latest display of the toxic state of discussion and debate. Too often, people form a viewpoint and immediately dismiss every other viewpoint as wrong, and too often, evil. Naturally, if one thinks something is evil, it must be eliminated. People use technology to mute or block the voices of those who disagree, and will also report the dissenter to the administrators of whatever platform they encountered the dissenter in, reporting the disagreement as “hate speech.” If the administrators hold the same view as the reporting person, they will usually sanction the person that disagreed, whether or not the speech truly had any hate in it. (This is not meant to dismiss or diminish true acts of hate; of course there are too many of those. This is merely to highlight those that report even the mildest disagreements as “hate speech.)

With that information disclosed, let me give you my 3 keys to help set a new tone with our interactions, whether in-person or online.

Avoid extremes. You would think this is intuitively obvious, but spend about 45 seconds on Twitter and you’ll know it’s not obvious to everyone. When someone says something wildly inaccurate, displays belief in their own superiority, or tries to completely invalidate any other point of view, move away. Scroll down. Swipe up. Don’t give the extreme person what they crave, which is attention. Further, don’t dismiss everyone that bears a similar description to the extreme person as being the same. Not all white men are white supremacists. Not all black men are thugs. Not all Jews are tightwads. Not all Hispanics are members of the MS-13 gang. Not all women are high-maintenance…. Oops got carried away there. Well, I’ve never met a woman that wasn’t high-maintenance. 

At any rate, a critical aspect to establishing a better culture is not giving attention to extreme views and not assuming everyone that fits a certain description is exactly the same. Be mature about how you interact with people.

Encourage some conflict. This is one of Martin Zwilling’s points. He says, “Real innovation can only come from people who think and see things differently. Disagreements should lead to constructive discussions, real learning, and better solutions… The best way to stay in control, and get maximum benefit, is by asking open-ended and relevant questions. This will allow constituents to feel that you respect them and are debating their ideas rather than judging them because of their views.” This is the opposite of people who want to argue about everything – the conflict-avoiders. All conflict is unpleasant, and many of us just don’t want that feeling. The key to healthy debate is to debate ideas, not people. Make sure the other participants know you are questioning the ideas and not them. Use clear language, and again, avoid extreme terms like all, always, never and none.

Take the HIGH road. Yes, this is coming dangerously close to those clichés I claim to hate so much, but hang with me for a minute. Maturity is a key attribute here as well. To me, this is an area that businesses might come into conflict with customers. Someone may purchase your product or service and it doesn’t work out. In the current cyberspace climate, there’s a chance this customer will find a forum to blast you for not meeting their expectations. Your best bet here is to contact the customer outside the forum where (s)he is airing grievances and try to resolve the situation. If you are able to reach a solution, then go back to the forum and respond to the customer expressing gratitude for feedback and that you were able to resolve it. Other forum users will see that you did not take the criticism personally and worked to solve the issues. That will make them more likely to come to you if they need your product or service.

With so much business taking place online in this day and age, it’s easy to forget that the people we interact with are actually people. Since it’s on a computer or phone, we can tend to think we’re yelling at robots. But we’re yelling at people. We need to remember that and treat them like people.

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