“Don’t Make It Personal”
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
But a man of understanding remains silent.”
In the last post we looked at the question: “How can I be more mature when I talk to people online?”
The answer in summary—Don’t make it personal, painful, demanding, or rude. Today the first point—Don’t make it personal.
Forums are for critiquing thoughts, not thinkers.
Keep the discussion in the realm of ideas. The moment you begin to talk about the other person’s attitude or behavior, you make it personal.
It’s an easy mistake to make.
You ask a man a question, but he answers a slightly different question. Then you say, “Why didn’t you answer my question?” Guess what? You just made it personal. You are no longer poking his idea—you are poking his character. And he won’t like it.
What should you do instead?
Ask your question again in a different way. Use cunning, not brute force. Influence the conversation without trying to assert control. Be like Odysseus with the Trojan Horse—use your mind instead of a direct assault. “Using your mind” doesn’t mean having the best proof. It means having common sense about how to engage others winningly.
Anytime you have strong emotions, you are in danger of making it personal.
Don’t react emotionally. If someone else acts immaturely, give them grace. Remember how hard it is to be mature. (You’re reading an article about it, after all.) Be the better man and be the leader. Assume the best about others. Failing that, at least resolve to act as if you assume the best.
Keep in mind that public disagreement is public criticism.
It never feels good to receive it. But public disagreement is part of the purpose of the forum. People know that. They are willing take some ego hits. But you need to help people know you aren’t hitting them for the fun of it. When you disagree you must soften the blow.
Once on a forum I commented, “If we are willing to take away people’s rights in order to make the world safer, we should ask how far we would go with it. Wouldn’t a totalitarian dictator use this kind of reasoning? What constrains it?”
I thought it was a worthy question. But the other person said I was using “fear-mongering language.” I have to admit, it hurt to read that. I wasn’t trying use emotionally loaded words. I was only trying to discuss domestic policy in terms of principles. But I was accused of being a “fear-monger.” Suddenly it was personal.
Don’t hit the other person’s pride. It’s immature. Don’t go near it. Don’t make it personal.