This is a Guest blog post from Mark Haas.
We use various forms of communication to inform, entertain or influence. Depending on intent and circumstance, we may use various technologies to send and receive. Voice, gestures, hand signs, smoke signals, radio, email. The availability of technology offers new ways to communicate that are offered as improvements in speed, cost and convenience. However, while the purpose of communication remains, new transmission mechanisms often alter effectiveness and outcomes.
Specifically, the advent of email, text and video formats have disrupted communication from bi- or multilateral to a one-way broadcast. Expectation of a reply is no longer assumed, expected or, in many cases, even desired. I want to say what I have to say to not just a specific person, but to anyone who will listen — or at least receive my message.
Just as standards make processes and products more efficient, communication protocols make communication more effective. Protocols exist in almost every industry and profession. They evolve over time to improve transactions.
But protocols don’t just involve technical, mechanical matters. They have to be used by everyone in the system. This means people have to appreciate their usefulness and use them. Just as Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (http) exists to facilitate standardized and efficient Internet communication, so too do social protocols facilitate interpersonal communication. If someone tried to set up a new Internet protocol, it would take time and effort to get people to adopt it, if they ever did. Similarly, using varying social and communication protocols would hinder, in some cases cripple, communication.
Argumentation is defined as the search for the truth (although the term has been somewhat corrupted lately to mean being disagreeable). Effective argumentation includes what is known as the burden of evidence (support what you say with presumably unassailable facts) and the burden of rejoinder (elevate the discussion when presented with facts by another).
This is what is being violated regularly, unwittingly at first and now possibly intentionally. It seems that social media only warrants a statement, unsupported by evidence when challenged, of one’s opinion. When challenged, the response is to attack, deflect or ignore. While not all discussions follow this pattern, one could draw the conclusion that social media is not a place to explore the truth. Argumentation has just become argument.
This is not miscommunication, where people do partially or wholly miss the meaning or intent of the message. This is more fundamental. It is the lack of desire by the sender for the recipient to respond. It is the lack of intent to participate as much as it is to send. How many people have asked to see a picture of what you had for breakfast? Are you expecting to engage in a dialog about it or are you just “letting people know?”
For purposes of this conversation, dancing refers to ballroom dancing. Two people are a team. Their activity requires cooperation and mutual intent.
They send messages through their eyes, voice and gentle pressure on hand, shoulder and back. Two well practiced partners (and they are called “partners” for a reason) move as one, each seeking to anticipate and respond to the other, in the interest of mutual understanding and enjoyment. Even a mishap can be accommodated easily by an attendant partner. The combination of two (or many) can be entertaining and inspiring.
Boxing is a contest between two adversaries, opponents, a challenger and a champ. The expectation of all who participate in, and observe, the contest is that one will win and the other will lose. Each has developed a plan to overwhelm the other. They trade punches with the desire that each punch will end the fight. Once the “knockout” has been delivered, the contest is over.
With such ease do we send a text, post a video or send a Tweet. We don’t even have to know who will receive our message, when they will get it or even if they will respond. And we are OK with this.
Can We Teach Boxers to Dance?
It has become easy to send a message without expecting a reply because we expect to be removed from an immediate social response. Without facial cues or body language, or immediate verbal/written response, there is no feedback that could effectively elevate the conversation.
We issue opinion, compliments or vitriol, sometimes not even knowing how our words will be received. Because of this disconnect, we often forget that we may have started a conversation. A conversation that might as easily be received as an invitation to argumentation as a sucker punch.
There is a difference between talking to an individual and to a crowd. Part of our challenge is to know the difference requirements in how we talk to each.
Another part is recognizing that our responsibility in a conversation is to assure our message is received as we intended, and that the conversation is beneficial to all parties.
I’d much rather interact with Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers on the dance floor (if they’d have me) than Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring. I’d also rather have a deeper and insightful conversation than lobbing, or receiving, insults.
Let’s all learn to dance better.