Digital Centership | It’s Not About Being Right
Walter Sobchak: Am I wrong?
The Dude: No you’re not wrong.
Walter Sobchak: Am I wrong?
The Dude: You’re not wrong Walter. You’re just an asshole.
Walter Sobchak: Okay then.
The Big Lebowski
When I was a teenager, my dad often used the Dr. Phil quote in his lectures to us: “Would you rather be right, or happy?” he’d ask me and my brother. Frankly, the only thing more annoying for a teenager than being lectured by her father, is being lectured by her father with Dr. Phil quotes. It took a long time for me to actually appreciate what he was telling me. But of course, now I understand. Being “right” isn’t ever the goal.
Human relationships are about empathy and meaningful exchanges; not winning arguments.
Digital Centership is about facilitating the growth that people need to make in themselves for real change to happen. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what kind of authority you think you have – there is no law that anyone is required to listen to you. Every single person you meet online or offline must be approached with respect for their individual experiences in life, and for their right to make their own choices.
Any leader who believes that their message is more important than the person with whom they are sharing it is clearly not interested in real change. If you truly believe you are right in your cause, then resorting to mocking, berating or insulting people who don’t agree with you is merely a reflection on your own inability to convey your vision in a way that compels.
Very few people are converted to new ideas overnight. For most of us, change is a process that involves seeing ideas in action. As leaders, we can only speak our truth and then strive to show what it looks like through our own practice over time. All of our social engagements online and offline must focus on the real world manifestations of our words, or we’ll be wasting everyone times—including our own.
I spend a lot of time observing leaders online, noting how they interact with their followers, colleagues, detractors and critics online. Many of these leaders are people who are actually very good humans, engaged in some excellent ‘real world’ work; but they often fall back on unhealthy communication tactics and end up sabotaging their own efforts. Here is a humorous look at some of the worst offenders; if you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, chances are you’ve been guilty of all of these at some point. (I know I have.)
The internet has given everyone their own personal soap box, where we can march down to the public square, climb up on it, and rant and rave about our grievances to anyone within shouting distance. These are people you see online most often making Great Declarations or writing Manifestos and Open Letters. They have something to get off their chests and by golly, we’re all going to hear about it!
Don’t get me wrong. I think everyone deserves to get on their soap box once in a while… but for some leaders it is their Modus Operandi. They devote most of their time airing their own grievances, and generously amplifying the grievances of others with whom they agree.
Rarely, if ever, are solutions discussed or practical actions suggested. The Soapbox feels they have fulfilled their leadership duty purely by griping publicly about their own woes, or on behalf of another group for whom they are heroically willing to point out injustices.
The Soapbox usually has quite a few followers who themselves feel validated by the ranting. Is there anything more gratifying than having a someone agree with you about how bad you have it? Yes, telling people what they want to hear will make you popular, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a leader—much less an effective one.
The Mob Boss
The Mob Boss has tapped into the gang mentality and often leads bands of ‘vigilantes’ against individuals or institutions that they feel deserve to be punished for some misstep (real or imagined). There’s usually a lot of vitriol and angry rhetoric espoused by The Mob Boss. Their grievances may even be legitimate. But rather than find constructive ways of addressing them, these folks feel satisfied with getting as many other angry people as possible together online and publicly shaming/ harassing/sabotaging their nemeses.
The Mob Boss will encourage their followers to tweet angry things en masse at a politician or another authority figure. The Mob Boss may try to get someone fired, impeached or otherwise jeopardize the personal or professional relationships of someone they feel has done them wrong. There is a sense of righteous anger in their communications, and they feel justified saying or doing things that are often cruel, or even spinning the facts against people they think deserve to be brought down.
The Mob Boss is almost exclusively interested in destroying people’s credibility, livelihood or reputation. The problem with this approach, of course, is that you can’t build things while you’re tearing things down.
The Petitioner is obsessed with getting as many people to agree with them as they can. They do this by focusing almost exclusively on campaigns – either petitions or fundraisers – and hammer away at everyone they know to support them. These folks call themselves activists, but are almost exclusively concerned with what they call ‘raising awareness’ about issues, and have almost no interest in the practical solutions required to solve them.
The irony of this approach is that they also usually focus on messaging and engaging with people who are already their supporters, which means they are simply reiterating an existing awareness to people who are already committed to their cause.
The other concern around The Petitioner is that they seem far more interested in getting short-term reactions reaction than in making an impact in the overall systems they are ‘fighting’ against. Certainly a petition may have gotten the attention of the media and/or public officials. But in the end, how many of those petitions/fundraisers made a real, lasting, systemic change?
Getting a reaction is not the same thing as impacting real, long-term change.
The Lecturer may or may not be a subject matter expert, but regardless thinks very highly of their own opinions and feels it their responsibility to ‘educate’ the people they engage with, regardless of whether they know them or not. They tend to talk down to people, and will tout any and all credentials they have. These folks can be recognized by their 1200 word responses on Facebook comments (in which there is a low probability that they will use paragraph breaks). The Lecturer will also copy/paste large sections of articles, journals, religious texts, etc., and can’t understand why everyone is not dazzled by the knowledge they are selflessly imparting.
The Lecturer takes it very personally when someone disagrees with them, and when their brilliant commentary fails to convince, they will resort to name-calling and insults. Finally, they will pronounce the other person(s) ignorant fools not worth their time, and leave the conversation in a huff.
Honestly, most people online don’t need more information. .
The Old Man on the Mountain
The Old Man on the Mountain is someone who treats their social media like a blog or a broadcasting platform. They really have no interest in engagement or being “social”. They simply want to log on, drop off their pearls of wisdom, and receive thanks and praise for sharing their thoughts. They won’t respond to comments or wish anyone a happy birthday. The ‘frivolity’ of social media is for other people. They are simply there to enlighten, and bolt.
The Manufactured Martyr
The Manufactured Martyr goes online to pick fights, say controversial things, make emotionally charged statements and/or aggressively condemn someone or something – and then publicly make a scene about how oppressed and abused they are when they get pushback.
The Manufactured Martyr cannot fathom the idea that people may be critical of them because they are rude and insulting to the very people who they claim to want to influence. Which makes us think they’re not that interested in helping peop
le change at all. (After all, if they converted their ‘haters’, they would no longer be a martyr!) In their minds, if you’re not supporting them and their tactics, you’re against them.
The Manufactured Martyr will retweet insults that people tweet to them in order to gain sympathy or attention. They look for ways to highlight how many ‘haters’ they have, and base their entire identity on being oppressed in some form or fashion.
Finally, we have our friend The Ostrich. This is the leader who avoids conflict, controversial
conversations or topics and sticks to fluffy, feel-good content. There’s no acknowledgment of issues that may require them to take a stand, unless it’s that killing puppies is bad and ice cream is good. The Ostrich will tell themselves that the reason they are staying ‘neutral’ online is because these conversations are unproductive; but the reality is that these conversations could be productive if The Ostrich was willing to assertively engage and contribute their considerable knowledge and expertise.
What are some other types of communication styles that are counterproductive?