Today I waded gently into a listserv debate that looked to me like it was getting off topic and heading towards personal attacks. A couple of people emailed me to say thanks, and I commented to one of them that any second I’d start getting emails attacking me. Sure enough, nothing overly rude but hardly supportive either.
I won’t go back over the same ground, but discussions descending into personal attacks is something you witness a lot on blogs, FaceBook etc. I know a few of the people I follow have had it happen to them, including Jenica Rogers. There’s a ‘joke’ on FaceBook that says something like “how do you start on an argument on FaceBook?” … 1. Say something. 2. Wait.
Although I’m a librarian, my PG Dip is in sociology, so I’m curious about what drives this behavior. Would people say the same things if they were face to face with the other person across a boardroom table? Or if they had to dictate it to a secretary? Probably not.
So why the difference? I suspect there are two main factors. When you can’t see the hurt you are causing in the other person’s face, you can choose to believe that your words are ‘clever’, rather than hurtful. The other factor is speed. We type a response at great speed, feeling a rush of adrenaline because we’re passionate or angry. We hit send and the deed is done. If we had to find note paper, write a letter, address the envelope, find a stamp – we’d have time to cool down and consider our words more carefully.
In my role at work I manage 7 permanent staff and some part timers. They knew exactly what I require of them – what my standards are, when work has to be done by, what a good job looks like. Sometimes I have to say “hey, that’s not good enough” or even “Right, I have my bosses hat on, and this is my final word on the matter”. But that never gives me the right to yell, to make it about them rather than their work, or to make them feel bad as people.
I think manners still matter and we could all do with hitting our internal pause button before hitting the real send button…