Taking charge of digital communication


Courage is a sword-wielding hero killing a dragon when the odds are against him? Or is it? Some might say that, based on how it’s interpreted as a story, that’s almost crazy. Or being stupid.

Maybe we don’t recognize the courage that many people show every day in small ways, especially when we talk to each other online, because we see it through the lens of absurd bravery.

It takes courage to follow your truth and lead in a world that is getting more complicated online.

When there isn’t much to lead us

Social norms that were once set in stone have been changing for decades, and behaviors that were once considered wrong are now accepted.

Even just a year ago, business practices and job opportunities were different from what they are now.

In both, we are making up new rules as we go along, and the lines between work and personal life are becoming even less clear.

The Internet has given us the chance to talk to a lot of people at once and to voice our opinions without having to leave the safety of our keyboards.

We face dilemmas every day in this world because we no longer live by strict social rules that tell us the “right and only” thing to do in life or business.

Emails, text messages, Facebook, and other online tools like these make it necessary for us to respond right away.

We want things to be fixed, taken care of, understood, acted on, thrown out, or answered. Now.

The strength to stay put

It takes bravery to stay still in this situation. To take the time to think about how to respond, with no goal other than what’s best for everyone.

Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye on the long-running TV show Mash and has many other talents, said in a recent interview that there was a disconnect between a bomber pilot pushing a button and the children who died because of it.

About digital communications, he said a lot of the same things. When you hit the send or submit button, you don’t think about how the words might affect other people.

It takes courage to think before you act, to be polite, and to be nicer than you have to be.

What can we leave behind?

So, how can we teach our children to be brave in a world where change is the only constant and social norms change with the tide?

It’s unlikely that our grandchildren will “enter” the job market or even think about having a career. They are more likely to make up their own work and put it in a portfolio, and they do things like volunteer and keep learning as a matter of course.

So much will depend on how well they can talk to each other, especially online

How can we set a good example so they can learn the communication skills they need to act instead of react? To always be in their own truth, no matter how other people try to change it. To use their voices only for the greater good and not fall into the trap of not caring about other people.

21 ideas for a code of behavior that shows courage

We could start by making an online courage code for how we talk to each other.

I don’t know what order to put these ideas in, but I do know that acting on any of them takes courage.

I’ve failed at all of them.

Now that I know what happened, I wish I had been more brave than I was at the time. But that’s how we learn, and it’s also how we might be able to teach others. I’d love to know what you think.

  1. Think about what you want to say in terms of what you or your organization wants to do. That means you have to have a clear goal that you can explain with confidence.
  2. Make it clear. Both in terms of intent and of truth.
  3. Stick to what you believe in. So, you need to know what they are.
  4. Keep looking for the truth no matter what (from Geraldine Coy’s book Brave Truth), so you can be fair and unbiased about what you say.
  5. Don’t say anything to someone online (like in an email, on Facebook, in a forum, or in a comment) that you wouldn’t say to them in person.
  6. Think about not only what you say, but also how you say it. A sentence that you hear and a sentence that you read can mean two very different things. If you have to, say what you think. People should understand what your tone means.
  7. Consider your agenda. Are you saying one thing but really meaning something else? My daughters tell me that this is a form of passive aggression.
  8. What do you hope will happen? Define it. Would a phone call be a better way to do it?
  9. Follow the three-drawer rule. Write what you want to say. Put it in the top one. Remove any offensive comments or passive aggressive behavior. Place it in the second drawer. Then think about how the outcome will help everyone and be nicer than you have to be. It’s in the third drawer. Take it out and send it. Most of the time, by then, any heat will have gone away.
  10. Get over it. (Thanks to a really good friend.) Take it on the chin, no matter what has hurt you or made you angry. Do more good than you have to. Reacting will never get you what you want.
  11. Stop moving around for a while. Even if you act quickly, you’ll never win.
  12. If you’re in a tough spot and can’t see a way out, talk to people you trust and who can give you an unbiased opinion. Do what they tell you to do. Never think things are as bad as they really are.
  13. There are some situations where you just can’t win. Retire. If it’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy, then trying again is just a waste of time and energy.
  14. What is a win really worth? Most of the time, the result isn’t worth the pain. Even more so when money is at stake. I can think of at least a dozen situations where arguing for a financial outcome either wasted weeks or months of time and money with no result or, worse, led to a phyric victory. You got the money or part of it, or you made your point, but you lost the client. And your sense of sanity, too.
  15. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Most of the time, you are not the only one to blame when things go wrong. Self-flagellation is likely to make things worse.
  16. Avoid drama. In a soap, no one ever comes out on top. Find a way to leave with honor long before things get out of hand.
  17. Say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong, and mean it. Even if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, say you’re sorry for what’s going on, not necessarily what you’ve done, if that will make things better for everyone.
  18. Don’t be afraid to show vision as a leader. It might mean you get your head blown off sometimes, but the world would not be a better place without people who have ideas and act on them.
  19. Speak up for what you believe in, but never in a rude or angry way. We’ve all seen those self-congratulatory, arrogant comments on social media that make you feel bad for the person who wrote them. No one benefits from them.
  20. Think about being kind. Think about how someone else feels. How do they feel about it? This is the bravest thing you’ve done. If you do, you will talk differently. It might not mean you get what you want, but it will give you the courage to deal with what you get.
  21. Appreciate what you have. When we are truly thankful for the good things in our lives, we can grow as people and be more open, brave, and in charge of our online conversations.