We live in a time where many of our conversations are happening in type on screens, where no one can see our faces or hear our voices while we express what we express, and we can't quickly address misinterpretations or add clarifying information when something is misinterpreted or missed. Even offline, though, being a little painstakingly thorough in how we communicate with one another has been well worth it in my experience. After practicing this process with a recent Facebook post, I thought it might be worth talking a little bit about how this works for me.
"How will I frame what I have to say?"
Intro is always important. For mine, I wanted it to be clear that this process of responding had been painstaking, that I took it seriously, and that it was the result of an actual practice of patience. And I wanted to do that quickly so I could get to the points.
"How can I validate the point the person across from me is trying to make as I illuminate why that point is irrelevant/based in a falsehood? And how can I do that kindly?"
I navigate the world looking at how people are for the most part trying their best to do something or say something of value. They're not trying to be malicious, especially those we discuss things with online (unless they're literally trolling — in which case you need to just learn to discern that and leave the bait alone).
So, assuming I'm not engaging with someone who's trolling, I make it a point to reiterate and validate the point the person across from me is trying to make before turning to educate them on what I believe they should consider or learn more about.
"Is this as kind as it can be? Does this sound like it would be yelled or snapped? Does this sound sarcastic? Can I make it sound less frustrated and more calm and genuine?"
I try my best to make sure my words are coming across as genuinely spoken, and even-keeled.
It's easy for me to type something and then when someone else reads it — it's suddenly escalated in tone or volume to them. And sarcasm just doesn't tend to go over well in most situations — when the goal is to make a solid connection over a point of contention — spoken or otherwise.
"Who am I speaking to? Is that clear?"
Sometimes the message you're communicating isn't actually for everyone who might be reading it. It's worthwhile to clarify at times who exactly you're intending the message for, so other folks don't get confused or hurt thinking you're talking to them, too.
"Am I talking about what I actually know about? Am I directing people to solid resources? What are the next steps I'm offering folks so this doesn't become a revolving door of feelings/opinions leading to no actual action or conclusions?"
I can share my experiences with full confidence. But when it comes to things outside of my specific area of education and expertise, I've got to be able to direct people to a reputable source, or at least suggest they go find them if I don't know them off the top of my head, if I'm going to expect them to take that info seriously.
"Do I sound like a real person? Do I sound like I know I'm talking to a real person?"
Again, this brings in the issue of tone and approach. As I read things I'm writing, I often ask myself, am I sounding like I'm talking down to someone or putting myself on their same level, or even humbling myself in the way that I'm communicating?
How do I balance my conviction and my humility? How do I make it clear to other folks that I'm not attacking them, I'm reaching out to them? I'm inviting them.
Because honestly at the end of the day — whether we like it or not, whether we feel like it or not — we're already at the same table. What are we going to do about it?
It is exhausting to do this. It means that when I'm doing this well, I'm not just venting and posting. It's not taking me a few minutes to share what's on my mind. It's taking an hour, or two even. But I deeply believe it's worthwhile. And I believe you see the difference in the types of responses that arrive below posts where I engage this practice — and the amount of responses that I get *off* of social media.
Do you have a process for when you're speaking to someone (whether in type or aloud) about a topic that can easily escalate or devolve into misinterpretation? What's worked well for you in balancing what you have to say and who you're speaking to?