The secret to successful conflict is knowing what you want to get out of the engagement before the opening bell.
After spending the 20th century in relative silence, introverts are poised to rule the Interactive Age.
Social media has changed the way we communicate. The extroverted approach to communication in the 20th century—one-size-fits-all programming, in-your-face advertising, and dictatorial monologues—has been replaced by a more thoughtful and empathetic discourse that involves listening to the ideas of others, engaging in dialogue, offering comments and opinions, and sharing interesting content.
And no one is better prepared for this communication revolution than introverts. Here are the eight reasons why introverts will rule the Interactive Age:
Machines have two primary functions: they perform the task they were built for or, failing that, they serve as emotionless objects through which we can vent our pent-up rage and frustration.
Who among us hasn’t wanted to go all Office Space on the company printer? We slam our car doors, punch parking meters, and throw our remotes against the wall. (You guys do that, right?) And we take out our aggression without a hint of remorse because these are victimless drubbings. We’re thrashing machines, not people.
As novelist Richard Price said, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.”
Which is more difficult: persuading a hostage-taker to free his hostages and turn himself in, or developing an online reputation as an engaging and influential expert in your given field? Ending the hostage situation, of course. It is exponentially more difficult. But as vastly different as those two situations are, they do have one thing in common: they both follow a three-step path to success. In fact, hostage negotiators can teach you everything you need to know about successful social media engagement.
The Behavioral Influence Three-step Stairway Model
So how to negotiators build relationships with hostage takers? The process is simple but not easy.
The Behavioral Influence Stairway Model, which is an updated version of the model created by the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, offers a great guide for establishing relationships online (and offline, too). It illustrates how active listening can help move you through the three stages of relationship building: empathy, rapport, and influence.
Active listening is not just the driver in creating relationships in hostage situations—it’s also crucial for social media success. So what does it entail?
It starts with understanding that you need to learn about the other person. Before you can connect, much less influence, another person, you’ve got to get a sense of who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. You can’t assume that they share, like, or even understand your opinions, beliefs, or worldviews. The reverse is also true.
Active listening includes a number of helpful tools for ascertaining these things, whether it’s from behind a barricade or behind a laptop. They include:
- Asking open-ended questions. This can be as simple as changing “Are you happy it’s Friday?” to “How has the week treated you?” Open-ended questions, which can’t be answered with yes/no, give the other person a chance to share more information.
- Paraphrasing. It’s a surprisingly powerful tactic on social media. Regardless of the platform, the ability to restate the gist of another’s argument is a great way to show understanding—for instance, paraphrasing the main thrust of another’s blog post before sharing a link to it.
- Emotional labeling. Putting a name to another’s emotional state demonstrates understanding and, when done properly, can reduce the intensity of their emotion simply by providing a name for it.
For a more complete list of active listening tools (some of which aren’t appropriate for online communications), check out Eric Barker’s Time piece here.
Ironically, the first sign that you are succeeding in your quest to use active listening to build a relationship is the emergence of empathy on your part. That’s right, the first step towards a relationship comes from you. Since you’re the one pursuing a relationship, it’s your job to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Empathy is the foundation for all relationships, especially new ones. Social media imposes some barriers to establishing it, since you don’t always see or hear the other person. When that’s the case, more has to be inferred from bios, past posts, etc., so do your homework.
Because empathy is what drives effective communication, connection, and change.
This is a great time to start offering help or advice for problems that you have learned about from your active listening.
Built upon empathy, rapport is a sense of mutual understanding. In this stage, the other person is finally joining you in forming a relationship. Their understanding of your understanding (empathy) is the basis for this common ground.
And your empathy then gives insight into how to best communicate your opinions and goals. You have earned the right to be trusted because you’ve shown understanding of the other person’s point of view and hopefully helped that person solve a problem.
In this context, influence “is the act or power of producing an effect without apparent force or direct authority.” This, for most people, is the goal of social media interaction: to cause behavioral change through the respect and connection that others feel for them.
And it’s tempting, when you reach this stage, to view your job as done. Wrong. If you don’t maintain a constant—though perhaps reduced—flow of empathy and attitude of active listening, you’ll soon find yourself back at the beginning.
If at any point the progression stalls—or if you screw up and start “falling down the stairs”—go back to the previous step.
As you can see from this model, establishing influential relationships takes time and effort. And while you will have it easier than hostage negotiators, it makes sense to focus on a relatively few people at a time when seeking to expand your circle of influence on social media.
It's often described as the ability to "walk in someone else's shoes" or "put yourself in their place." According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” These are all helpful in creating a shared understanding of the concept, but there's little here about how empathy works.
In looking for more information on that aspect, I recently discovered that Dr. Mark Davis developed an interesting way of testing for empathy back in the 1980s through his Interpersonal Reactivity Index, which looks at four facets of empathy:
- "The perspective taking (PT) scale measures the reported tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological point of view of others in everyday life ("I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective").
- The empathic concern (EC) scale assesses the tendency to experience feelings of sympathy and compassion for unfortunate others ("I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me").
- The personal distress (PD) scale taps the tendency to experience distress and discomfort in response to extreme distress in others ("Being in a tense emotional situation scares me").
- The fantasy (FS) scale measures the tendency to imaginatively transpose oneself into fictional situations ("When I am reading an interesting story or novel, I imagine how I would feel if the events in the story were happening to me")." (Bullet points from here.)
I found these categorizations helpful because they identified specific ways that empathy evidences itself in our hearts and minds. And in doing so, the descriptions of these four kinds of empathy provide some excellent cues for people who are seeking to improve their own empathy. For instance, you could practice "perspective taking" in reading the newspaper or in everyday interactions as a way to increase your skill in seeing others' points of view.
In your opinion, which of these facets is the most important?
Many people are overwhelmed by the prospect of engaging in social media … and are then underwhelmed by the outcome. There are a number of mistakes or missteps that someone can make, but one of the biggest is the emotional approach you take. If you look at social media as a way to raise your profile and share your information, you’ve got a problem. Social media can do those things, but if you approach it as a constellation of free press release distribution systems, don’t be surprised if you don’t get much traction.
Instead, approach it as a number of venues where you can demonstrate your prowess at being a friend. And how do you do that?
- Start with the goals of understanding, supporting, and helping. Your friends “get” you, are there when you need them, and sincerely want to help you. Start asking yourself if you meet these criteria for the people you interact with on social media. If not …
- Listen more. It’s impossible to learn about someone else if you don’t shut up. So pay attention to the problems, questions, and concerns of the online community you’re trying to join.
- Ask questions. This can be intimidating. So imagine yourself trying to get to know a new friend. How would you pose a question? What kind of things would you want to know about them?
- Reflect back. When chatting with a friend, you probably say things like “Oh, I hate it when people cut me off, too. It makes me so mad!” This kind of validation is surprisingly helpful in both in-person and online communication. It conveys understanding and empathy, creating common emotional ground. And who doesn’t want to feel understood and supported?
- Be generous with your support. You probably don’t keep a scorecard of how much you’re giving or receiving from a friend. (At least, I hope not.) Your first instinct is to give help whenever you can. So search out opportunities to do the same online. Don’t worry about the ROI, worry about being a friend.
- Be ready to apologize if you say the wrong thing. Misunderstandings happen. And they happen even more online and with people you don’t know well (or at all). But a genuine apology will go far to addressing these communication gaps and to keep the friendship rolling along.
- Stay in touch. If you’re like me, you’ve lost a number of friends due to neglect. Imagine how much easier it is for your online friends to feel ignored.
Do you agree with this social media philosophy? What elements of being a friend am I missing?
That’s not to say that mastering Twitter and other social media tools isn’t important. It’s critical, which is why the American Society of Association Executives will feature such breakout sessions as “Tweet Like a Pro,” “Link Up with LinkedIn,” and “Hot Trends in Association Social Tools” at its annual convention in Nashville next month. In fact, nearly one in four of ASAE’s 136 “Learning Labs” is dedicated to social media issues.
This is significant. ASAE is the voice of the association profession. The fact that they are allocating so much bandwidth to social media shows just how much of an impact the Internet is having on that industry.
But among the positive breakout sessions there are several others that examine how social media is threatening to upset the industry’s decades-old model, specifically
- “[T]he top disruptive trends with major implications for associations,”
- “[E]merging trends … that challenge the traditional notion of associations as the knowledge gatekeepers of their industry,”
- The fact that “disruptive innovations abound—and some are fundamentally changing the way [associations] do business.”
The trade association industry, it seems, may well be the next sector of the 20th century information-industrial complex to be critically disrupted by the Internet.
To survive this impending disruption, association execs need more than just Internet-weapons training. They need to understand how thoroughly social media has transformed the way we communicate and interact with each other. And they need to integrate the customs and mores of this brave new world into every facet of their organization.
To get that process started, we've compiled the Seven Rules of the Internet Age that all organizations should follow if they hope to benefit from—or simply survive—the cultural tectonic-plate shifts that the Internet has triggered.
Collaborate. Don’t dominate. If the 20th century was a winner-take-all poker game played with a stacked deck, the Interactive Age is parachute day in gym class. You only “win” if everyone plays together to achieve shared goals.
You’ve got to give to receive. In the 20th century, nobody but bakery shop owners and drug dealers gave away samples of their best products. But in the Interactive Age, giving is the first step in relationship building. The information you once sold is now shared. Its value—and your organization’s—will increase only as that information is, in turn, shared with others.
Authority is earned, not bought. Nobody takes their lead from four-out-of-five-dentists anymore. The days of advertising your way to “expert” status are gone. That honorific can only be earned … and that process starts when you give away that useful information.
The reach of your message is trumped by the reaction to your message. Getting a sound bite on NPR will always be a treat. But if it doesn’t ignite a reaction among the communities that care about your issues then it has no value … except maybe to your mother. (And she could be lying, too.) Smaller passionate audiences beat massive docile audiences every time.
Be transparent. With all due respect to New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner, “on the Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.” The Internet has made it damned near impossible to get away with deception. Act accordingly. You can still lie, cheat, and deceive. You just can’t do all that and expect stay in business.
Flatten the org chart. Your organization is linked to countless vibrant communities that care about your issues and it is bursting with the social media expertise needed to capitalize on those connections. But those resources are locked in the minds and cell phones of staff members whose names you sometimes remember. Unlock the social-media power of your entire team.
Be empathetic. The audience now determines which content has value and which gets deleted. To capture the attention and win the approval of your audiences, you must replace proclamations in press releases with sincere engagement in the form of comments, dialogue, info-sharing, and genuine receptivity to their thoughts and opinions.
It’s a safe bet that ASAE’s breakout sessions on social media will be informative and thought-provoking. But one session—“Are You Ready to Build a Digital Engagement Team?"—promises to be particularly enlightening, if the promo is any indication:
“Most associations have traditional departments of technology, marketing, and communications … Within five years these teams as we know them today will be obsolete. … Your organization has to be agile and responsive like never before. Are you ready?”
An excellent question.
After every outdoor recess my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Yaroschuk, would make us boys wash our hands in the boys’ room and then march single-file past her desk to show her that we got the job done right.
I, unfortunately, had inherited a mild skin condition that would flare up at the most inopportune times—like just before opening day of the 1969 Outdoor Recess Season.
This condition manifested itself as a crescent of very dry skin that ran from the base of my index fingers to the first knuckle of my thumbs. When that skin got dirty—which was always since it was attached to the hands of a nine-year-old boy—it stayed dirty. I couldn’t wash it away no matter how hard I scrubbed.
Mrs. Yaroschuk, even more unfortunately, did not know about this condition and demanded to know why I refused to wash my hands. When I tried to explain sotto voce—since, at this point, we had captured the collective attention of the entire class—she declared to the class that I was lying.
Then, in the middle of hand-inspection time, she grabbed my arm and dragged me into the boys’ room so she could “get that dirt off your hands myself, believe you me!”
She did try, I’ll give her that. But after about two or three minutes of rubbing my hands under hot tap water with coarse brown paper towels slathered in industrial-strength liquid soap, it dawned on her that I was telling the truth.
Today there are a number of products on the market that would prevent such humiliations (mine and Mrs. Yaroschuk’s). And one of those products—Dermablend—is currently taking its turn as an Internet darling with a contrived video campaign called “The Camo Confession,” created by Agence Tuxedo, an ad agency in Montreal.
The premise is clever: A beautiful person sits before a camera, tells you something wonderful about herself, and then makes her “confession” by wiping the Dermablend foundation from her face and revealing a striking skin condition. It’s fascinating, really, when you see that these “normal” people are actually suffering from rather extreme skin conditions caused by things like lupus, severe acne, and vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes the loss of skin color in patches.
The reveal, and each person’s story, makes a powerful case for why some people feel strongly that they need to use Dermablend when they’re out in public, and why—were it not for our reactions—they really wouldn’t have to.
Real feel-good stuff … until you meet Rico. Rico, you see, suffers from … well, let’s let him tell his story.
“Many people would say that I’m different just because of my skin, but I don’t feel that way. In many ways, I’m just the same as anyone else. I am accepted by a lot of people who are … who are different, and in the same position as I am.
“No matter what you’re faced with in life, always feel proud of who you are, for what you are and not to let others’ judgments get in your way. Today, I feel proud. I did what I had to do. And look at me now.”
Yes, Rico is suffering from … tattoos. Hideous, debilitating tattoos that he presumably paid people to etch over his entire body. But did he let that self-inflicted affliction slow him down? Quite the contrary! Rick “Rico” Genest, aka Zombie Boy, is a DJ, an actor, and a model … not in spite of his skin condition, but because of it.
God bless him.
According to Agence Tuxedo, “Above all, you wear a Tuxedo to make an impression.” Well, guys, the impression I hget from that video is Rico in a tuxedo T-shirt, because it says, “I want to be pitiable, but I’m here to party.”
If you took any delight in movie director Michael Bay’s recent key-note meltdown you’ve probably never experienced the pain and humiliation of stage-floor brain lock.
Brain lock is a rare and debilitating disorder that occurs when one’s train of thought is completely derailed by an unexpected turn in the tracks, usually in middle of a speech. It is not to be confused with the awkward moment of silence that follows a teleprompter malfunction, clinically known as the Obama-mum phenomenon.
In fact, rather than being rendered speechless by a lack of an original thought, brain-lock sufferers are actually bombarded by countless thoughts shoving and bouncing off each other in a futile effort to become the first words out of the mouth. In Bay’s case, this neurological logjam set off a system-wide alarm that triggered, among many other reactions, the deployment of the automated “charm offensive” and a mustering of the crew on the fight-or-flight deck.
Ordinarily, these two self-preservation systems aren’t activated simultaneously. (There’s actually a locking mechanism built into newer brains that makes this virtually impossible.) But in those rare instances that it does happen, the dissonance between these two very different survival mechanisms actually affects the host body. Once this happens, recovery is extremely unlikely and total, system-wide humiliation is almost a certainty.
You can actually see it happen to Bay. His charm offensive is immediately hampered by a voice tremor, involuntary deep breathing, and a rapidly drying mouth. Meanwhile his flight off the stage is literally thrown into a tail spin as the back—in a selfless effort to save the face—struggles to turn itself to the audience while the legs remain locked facing the audience, hell bent on completing the charm offensive.
Ultimately Bay’s head literally dragged his body off the stage, while his automated charm offensive repeated “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” in a monotone not unlike that of the dying HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was not pretty.
How do I know he went through all this? Because it happened to me.
Just as I was finishing up speech recently, I realized I was coming in for a landing way ahead of schedule. Like Michael Bay, I tried to ad lib some charming dialogue to chew up the clock, but my voice had other plans.
Meanwhile, my brain had gone into full escape mode, desperately shaking the door knobs of every possible escape route. (Do I fake a seizure as I have occasionally asked my daughters to do to get us out of church? Can I set off the fire alarm without anyone noticing? How about a coughing fit?)
By then it was too late; my body was starting to deconstruct. Like clockwork, blood rushed to my face to signal to the other primates in the room that I was, indeed, quite embarrassed. This rush of blood pushed every rational thought out of my head and every drop of saliva out of my mouth, sending most of it to my armpits where it poured out as flop sweat. Sensing that we were in full-blown flight mode, my bladder was about to release its cargo when I was finally able to get myself back the pilot’s seat.
And it was then that I learned the cure to this horrible situation: I stopped everything, took off my jacket, loosened my tie, started rolling up my sleeves and said to the audience, “Sorry folks, but I just started having a panic attack. Let me tell you why …”
And they listened, and they nodded, and they silently thanked God it was me and not them. It’s interesting to note that my brush with reputational death actually brought us closer to each other. While it certainly wasn’t my best speech, a lot of people came up to me, grasped my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “I enjoyed your presentation,” while their eyes were saying, “Damn, I thought we lost you there, boy. Good to have you back.”
So tuck this helpful tip in your back pocket. But remember: as with any effective prophylactic, you only want to use it once.
We’ve had a lot of fun picking at the bones of the 20th century mastodons that stampeded into the tar pits of the Interaction Age, but we haven’t witnessed one of those big boys going under in real time … until today.
Xcel Energy is currently in an existential fight with New Era Colorado—a band of dedicated (if not a little misleading) activists who believe they are “on the verge of setting an important precedent that has national significance and could threaten not just Xcel Energy but the very core of the business model, and the billions of dollars in profit that come with it, of the dirty coal energy industry.”
Considering the reaction to date from Xcel—and the energy utility industry in general—they may be right.
In 2011, the good people of Boulder Colorado voted to wrest control of the power grid from Xcel and make it a locally owned utility. Xcel fought back by getting an initiative on the 2013 ballot that would scuttle the deal if it were to pass, setting up a showdown that will have profound repercussions for the utilities industry if Xcel loses.
(Ever humble, Xcel initially denied having anything to do with the ballot measure. But after it was revealed that “the language of the proposed amendment … is identical to language that was tested by Xcel in an April poll,” Xcel acknowledged its involvement.)
New Era Colorado got the jump on Xcel with a well-produced video that laid out their case for why voters in Boulder Colorado should not overturn the 2011 election results. The highlight of this video is the revelation (at 3:35) that there is a “textbook” published by the Edison Electric Institute that Xcel and other utilities are using to fight the growing movement to localize power supplies. The advice in this “textbook” on how to “nip the movement in the bud” made it quite obvious that this 11-year-old manifesto needs updating.
Among the pearls … “develop fact sheets and other information you can leave behind,” “feature charitable activities in bill inserts,” and establish a website because “increasingly, individuals are turning to the Internet for political information.” (Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time rewritten every line?)
But it looks like Xcel is going to need more than a textbook and some yard signs to prevent its business model from unraveling. According to a more recent report commissioned by the Edison Electric Institute (January 2013), the entire industry faces a “cycle of decline [that] has been previously witnessed in technology disrupted sectors (such as telecommunications) and other deregulated industries (airlines).”
In other words, “Like the U.S. Postal Service … utilities will continue to serve the elderly or the less fortunate, but the rest of the population moves on,” at least according to David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, a wholesale power company based in Princeton, N.J.
As we’ve learned from Kodak, the Yellow Pages, Twinkies, Newsweek—to name just a few—it’s a brave new world out there. If you do not adapt, you will die. And the bigger you are, the faster you will be swallowed up by the tar pit. (The Internet does not subscribe to the “too big to fail” philosophy.)
So learn from the mistakes of the once-masters of our universe. The days of talking to are over. You now have to communicate with your customers partners, honestly and transparently.