8 Tips for Online Conversation

Nearly 60 percent of Americans described their online conversations with people of other political views as “stressful and frustrating” this fall. Even more reported that their cyber conversations left them feeling as if they have “less in common than they thought.” 

In our turbulent and polarized political climate, technology’s town square can feel less civil than ever. Flicking your finger through a Facebook feed usually means confronting crude, rude and callous commentary.

It’s time for an intervention. That’s why I’m calling on tips from Dale Carnegie — renowned provider of common-sense communication wisdom —  to advise us on how we can improve our digital discourse.

Carnegie’s best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936, still remains a classic guide today. Although the internet wasn’t around back then, in today’s world of online arguments and conversations, these practical — if simple — refrains remain relevant.

Here are 8 Carnegie quotes every Internet user should live by:

1. Avoid arguments at all costs.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument–and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes. Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.”

I have yet to meet anyone who has actually changed his or her mind about an issue as a result of an internet debate. Usually each party only becomes more stubborn the longer it goes on! Not only are online arguments time-consuming and ineffective, but they’re sometimes downright disrespectful and destructive. Next time you’re tempted, just keep scrolling.

2. Try to understand the other person’s point of view.

“Remember that other people may be totally wrong. But they don’t think so. Don’t condemn them. Any fool can do that. Try to understand them. Only wise, tolerant exceptional people even try to do that.”

Whether you’re “in conversation” with an article you’re reading, or actually dialoguing with someone, always try to see his or her argument in the best light possible. Even if you’re absolutely convinced of your own correctness, legitimately seek to understand what they believe and why.  You’ll have more credibility, and the conversation will likely be more beneficial for everyone involved.

 3. You might be wrong. Accept it.

“If you can be sure of being right only 55% of the time, you can go down to Wall Street and make a million dollars a day. If you can’t be sure of being right even 55% of the time, why should you tell other people they are wrong?”

Who, me? Wrong? No way!

It’s literally impossible to be right 100% of the time. Just think about what the internet would look like if we all had the humility to consider that we could be wrong–and actually have the audacity to admit it. It starts with us.

4. Be sympathetic.

“Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you.”

It’s easy to dehumanize people, especially on the internet, where words are often used as weapons hurled at unknown user handles. But behind that username is a person–yes, a real person–with his or her own story. Next time you see someone post about his or her struggles, try leaving a simple note of sympathy or encouragement. In a culture of cyberbullying, just a genuine gesture can be powerful in promoting self-acceptance.

5. Don’t expect too much of people

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

In conversation, we usually operate with a double standard. We expect others to allow us to vent and express all of our thoughts and opinions (however irreverent), while demanding that they be completely fair, sympathetic, and reasonable. If we reverse our expectations, we’ll be much better equipped to respond when their words seem less-than-fair.

6. Be a good story-teller.

“This is the day of dramatization.  Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do it. Television does it. And you will have to do it if you want attention.”

The internet isn’t just a labyrinth of chatrooms, but a stunning visual playground! If you’re passionate about a topic, put effort into portraying it in a creative and attention-grabbing way. Whether that’s sharing your perspective through writing a story, creating graphics, or animating a video, people are far more likely to listen and be engaged when the information is presented in a compelling and interesting format.

7. Don’t condemn, be patient.

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain–and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

It’s easy to find bad ideas on the internet — and people who support them. Our energy won’t be best spent pointing out flaws and griping about problems. The internet has a very long memory, and I’d rather my words be remembered as enriching, not aggravating. The next time frustrations run high, simply wait it out. Can’t wait to post that catty comment? Sleep on it first. Or, simply let it go.

8. Be appreciative.

“In our interpersonal relations we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy.”

It’s important to remember that the internet also has created a platform for insightful and creative content.  It’s how writers get their words out. It’s where photographers post portfolios, comedians create videos, musicians share songs, chefs release recipes, and designers digitize and animate stunning virtual worlds. We can consume all of this content thoughtlessly, or we can reach out to writers and artists to acknowledge when we encounter high quality work. A little appreciation goes a long way, and on the internet it can last virtually forever. An encouraging message won’t go unnoticed.



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