When I was growing up, my Mum used to say “If you haven’t got something nice to say, then say nothing at all.” I wish that more people would consider this before they make comment, pass judgement, pronounce a view about an issue, whether it is in person, online or in written form. I am an advocate for free speech and democracy. However, I also encourage kindness, compassion, empathy and decent human behaviour. Put another way, just because you can say it, write it, post it, doesn’t mean you should.
My friends at The Outer Sanctum Podcast have issued advice to women like me who are active on social media. They recommend “Don’t read the comments!” Why? Because more often than not, the comments posted on social media contain nothing nice, nothing constructive, nothing that contributes to collective learning, respectful debate and a better outcome. More often than not, the comments contain negative references to ones appearance, intellect and gender. All you have to do is check our the Twitter feed of Jane Caro to see evidence of some of this appalling online behaviour.
However, keyboard warriors aside, let me translate or decipher what Mum’s advice means to me:
The Impact of Your Words
Daniel Goleman says that EI (Emotional Intelligence) has four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Self-awareness, or the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, is a critical part of emotional intelligence. Beyond just recognizing your emotions, however, is being aware of the impact your behaviour has on other people.
This means asking yourself: when I make that comment in a meeting, write that email, post that comment on social media, what impact or effect will this have on the recipient? Will this comment add value to the issue, debate or argument? Is my intent good, or not? Am I launching an attack on the argument or on the person? Am I offering a viable alternative view, solution or option? What will I cause by this? Something good?
In The Social Media Arena
I am a regular contributor and commentator on and off-line. When I post on social media, I try to ensure the articles are interesting, spark thoughtful discussion, lively and respectful debate and ultimately, provoke positive change. I accept that a person like me posting about challenging topics means I will receive my fair share of opposite views. I have no wish to live in a bubble, so hearing alternate views is incredibly important. But what I observe is that there are a cabal of regular detractors who will challenge my views typically without constructive feedback, without substance and reduce the issue to one of personal preference and lacking a broad, inclusive world view. Given I work exclusively on women’s rights and gender equality, I am saddened to see the number of women who regularly launch personal attacks on me.
Generally, I have great discussions and good debate, but there are just those people who want to argue for the sake of argument, attack and never have a positve contribution to any issue. They simply want to be an antagonist. They are the ones who rarely have anything positive to say and rarely have anything positive to contribute. They exhaust me and make me sad.
Count to Ten
More of my Mum’s advice. “Take a deep breath and count to ten Michelle.” A tried and tested tactic for dealing with the detractors, however difficult I find it not to engage and try to elicit some sense and balance from these people. I have learned that a missile by return rarely results in a good outcome and alienates others with great wisdom and insights from the discussion. So if you see me not engaging, its not because I don’t care, its the complete opposite!
In conclusion, I defer to the Brené Brown playbook:
“I only accept and pay attention to feedback from people who are also in the arena.
If you’re occasionally getting your butt kicked as you respond, and if you’re also figuring out how to stay open to feedback without getting pummeled by insults, I’m more likely to pay attention to your thought about my work.
If, on the other hand, you’re not helping, contributing, or wrestling with your own gremlins, I’m not at all interested in your commentary.”
So tell me? Are you in the arena with me? If not, then take my Mum’s advice. Please.