With special guest William M. Timpson, Ph.D.
Technology enables us to learn and connect with each other in ways I never imagined as I worked toward a degree in the leading edge field of computer science “back in the day”. At that time computers were often used for complex computations, a long distance phone call was expensive, and writing letters was time consuming and provided a very slow Return on Investment. Fast forward to 2017. Almost every day I am taken aback by the wide variety of options we have to communicate instantly with almost everyone we know and even some we don't know. Facebook and other forms of social media enable us to easily keep in touch and share the most exciting (and mundane) aspects of our lives with relatives and friends that are near and far; some we may not have seen face-to-face for decades and some who may live on the other side of the world. Twitter lets us receive seemingly unfiltered messages from so many, including the President of the United States. And a plethora of news channels enable us to filter perspectives so that we can customize our impressions of world events and the attitudes of others. Most of the time I think that this is great and that it enriches our lives and improves our relationships. But sometimes it seems overwhelming, my view of the world and current events becomes skewed and distorted, and/or I am left with a feeling that “everyone” else has a life fueled by a steady stream of euphoria and joy while I’m sitting at home doing laundry … again. That can be a Tech Frustration.
Recently, my husband, 21-year-old son, and I watched a video about Millennials in the Workplace. It sparked a great discussion, and let’s just say that the Baby Boomer parents and Millennial son didn’t see eye-to-eye on all of the opinions shared. It was a lively conversation. And it got me thinking about relationships and how they can be enhanced or hurt because of the existence of social media, our attitudes about it, and our determination to use it carefully or treat it casually and/or carelessly.
Through some Restorative Justice volunteer work, I met an interesting and inspirational guy named Dr. William Timpson. Dr. Timpson is a professor in the School of Education at Colorado State University, and he has a fascinating background that includes work in Northern Ireland, South Africa, South Korea, and Burundi. Dr. Timpson and the Restorative Justice program have taught me a lot about listening and conflict resolution. Recently I asked Dr. Timpson how he thinks technology and social media are impacting our ability to strengthen relationships and resolve conflicts. Drawing from his 2002 book, Teaching and Learning Peace (Madison, WI: Atwood), here is some of what he told me.
Dr. Timpson: We all know that good communication can be pivotal in defusing a volatile confrontation. It helps lower emotions and defenses so everyone can obtain better understanding and define peaceful resolution alternatives. This information draws on Tom Gordon’s (1974) Teacher Effectiveness Training to describe three sets of skills that provide an effective model for establishing good communication: 1) Deep Listening, 2) Empathetic Expressing, and 3) Consensus.
Covey, S. (1989) The seven habits of highly effective people, New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Gordon, T. (1974) Teacher effectiveness training. New York, NY: Peter H. Whyden.
Solnit, R. (1994) Savage dreams: A journey into the landscape wars of the American West. New York, NY: Vintage.
Timpson, W. (2002) Teaching and Learning Peace, Madison, WI: Atwood.
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Recently a couple of people mentioned that conversationally I like to “throw things out there” and/or “mix it up”. The comments surprised me because I often feel like I’m holding back by raising “hot button” current event topics very selectively and only within small circles of close friends or trusted relatives. Given the gravity of many current events, I feel a desperate need to understand what others think, especially when they have a different perspective. I want to discuss and debate the issues, consider various perspectives, and test my ideas within a safe space where people understand my intentions.
Occasionally people will say things like "Why talk about this? None of us are going to change our minds.” But I beg to differ. I change my mind all of the time. If you take the time to educate yourself and/or engage in meaningful discussions with smart people, how can you not change your mind? If you’re not changing your mind about important issues, are you fully informed? Are you listening? Are you thinking?
Having raised two kids under pretty similar conditions, I’ve concluded that some people are wired to enjoy discussing controversial issues and others aren’t. Some prefer tackling issues in solitude, and others seem to avoid thinking about them at all. I get that each of us has different strengths and interests, and I suppose it's why we’re likely to find a caretaker around when we’re sick, a protector around when we’re scared, and a party planner around when it's time to celebrate. (i.e. If we're lucky.) Each of us plays a different role as we strive to hold our society together.
One of the great things about social media is that it can illuminate issues and perspectives we might not encounter otherwise. Conversely, it can also wall you off from certain perspectives. If a friend posts an article, I know that issue is very important to them, and I try to read and acknowledge it. This is a great use of technology (IMHO), but one Tech Frustration that arises is that sometimes, even though I’m troubled and concerned, I literally don’t know how to help. I want to help, I’m just not sure what I can or should be doing to make things better. Thanks to technology, those of you who care so much about these issues can give me some suggestions.
When it comes to the scary and hateful political rhetoric, I think we can all help to be sure that reasonable debates remain productive by striving to keep them fact-based and respectful. De-escalation is usually more productive that escalation. But there are other issues that concern me, and I am literally feeling stuck. As my friends figuratively scream about their concerns, I am listening and thinking, but the answers to these problems aren't clear to me. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I'm just not sure what I can do to help. You have my attention, but not my involvement. I need more guidance. Below is a list of issues that concern me, but I'm unsure about what I could be doing to help resolve them in a meaningful way.
Ideally I'd like to help eliminate the need to work on these issues completely, but in the meantime, I want to invest some time and energy to at least help to reduce their severity. If you have ideas about how I can help, please pass them along in a comment or private email message.
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This is not a political post, although some stories have been pulled from the political spotlight. You won’t read anything controversial below, and you may learn new ways to show your friends that you respect and appreciate them.
Apparently the Obama daughters attended a state dinner last year. While I’ve heard a lot of criticism of President Obama (and even his wife) over the last eight years, none of it, and I mean none of it, has been focused on their parenting skills. Either they are exemplary parents, or the people I know don't feel comfortable throwing rocks at other parents right now. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. In one article Michelle talks about her girls and explains that she and her husband “tried to normalize their lives as much as possible” while they were living in the White House. I’m guessing that she didn’t think that their attendance at a lot of State Dinners would support that objective. But apparently she did want them to have that experience … once and at the right time. Hold this thought. (Or, speaking of presidential daughters, take a break and watch this 2 min video which is just fun and funny.)
While the Obamas were raising their daughters in the White House, and even before that, Donald Trump was making it clear that he likes to negotiate. I do too! My husband and kids know that my favorite negotiations result in win-win-win outcomes even though I simply promote myself as a “win-win negotiator” on LinkedIn. Few things are as rewarding as getting exactly what I want while making sure that other people get exactly what they want (or more) at the same time. Constructing mutually beneficial outcomes is a challenge I enjoy and my desire to achieve win-win outcomes is why I prefer to attend a “show” over a “big game” and why I volunteer with a Restorative Justice program instead of the Special Olympics. All are interesting and worthwhile activities, I just seek out and appreciate win-win opportunities the most.
These stories provide an introduction to two of my favorite Facebook features; 1) Who should see this? and 2) Edit or delete this. I use both features most days because they make it super easy to precisely control who sees things I share via Facebook, and they let me correct and/or improve my comments if I find errors or improvement opportunities after they're posted.
You may find these features valuable if A) You respect your friends’ and family’s time, B) You value the way you are perceived by other people, and/or C) You want to share your ideas in a way that will be respected by others and may even cause them to see something from a different point of view.
Respect Your Friends
If you think you see everything I post on Facebook, you’re wrong … and lucky :) My mom knows that I recently made her famous Hungarian Mushroom Soup for the first time, but I figured few others would want to hear about it. People who responded to my question about future political posts know what I think about the recent elections, but apparently a number of my close relatives, not to mention good friends, were very happy to be spared the experience of reading my political musings. The Facebook Who should see this? feature makes respecting people's time and interests very easy.
Manage Your Brand
The best collection of career advice I received came from Patty Azzarello who reminds us, “You have a Personal Brand right now whether you know it or not.” She offers lots of good advice to help you ensure that you are perceived the way you want to be perceived. The Facebook Who should see this? feature gives you a lot of control over how you are perceived. And frankly, I wish that some people would use it more often. (Because unfortunately, some things can never be unseen.)
Open People’s Eyes
If you start a conversation with an insult, it’s likely that your friend won't hear anything else you say. It’s even less likely that they’ll respect what you say or that you’ll be able to influence them to see something from a different perspective. If you want to change someone’s mind, you may want to start the conversation in a way that will create, not destroy, trust. This means that you need to customize your messages based on the recipient(s). The Facebook Who should see this? feature will help you do this too.
Since many seem unaware of the Who should see this? and Edit or delete this features, let me show them to you.
Facebook Feature: Who should see this?
Facebook Feature: Edit or delete this
This post opened with the story about the Obamas because it's a great example of people sharing information, or in that case an experience, with others (i.e. their daughters) at the right time ... for the daughters. Donald Trump and I have learned that when you are negotiating with an audience, especially when you strive for win-win or win-win-win outcomes, you need to start by establishing a level of trust ... with the audience.
When you take the time to use the Facebook Who should see this? and Edit or delete this features to share the right message with the right people at the right time you respect your friends, reinforce your image as a careful and considerate communicator, create and maintain trust, and you may even enable people see things in a new way.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Now you know what it means to me.
P.S. If you think this article is about you, you may be right, but only a little. Mostly ... it's not you, it's me. This post was inspired by many of my own experiences as well as observations gathered from too much time on Facebook. It's a jungle out there, and I'm simply striving to help you avoid a few Tech Frustrations ... and maybe a few personal frustrations too.
Last week I was back in Michigan and able to watch the Presidential Debate with my parents. At one point, as one of the candidates was clearly speaking beyond his or her allotted time, my mom asked something like, “Couldn't they shut off their microphones at some point?” I’d had the very same thought. Then during the Vice Presidential Debate earlier this week, the moderator, Elaine Quijano, reminded Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, "Gentlemen, the people at home cannot understand either one of you when you speak over each other.” Thank you, Elaine.
Debate frustration continued as I listened to the On Point radio program yesterday. During a segment called Pot on the Ballot in 2016, two of the guests (from Colorado) started intensely arguing and speaking over each other (at ~37:00 min). That kind of exchange is pretty unusual for this usually intellectual, thoughtful, and respectful program. I wanted to hear what both guests were saying, but either the host, Tom Ashbrook, stopped their argument or time ran out. I forget how it ended. But I found myself wanting more info, lamenting the wasted time, and wondering about the truth. One of the guests had asserted a passionate position and then the other guest interrupted him to point out a clear bias in his position which the other guy vehemently denied. You know the routine. The words get louder and faster, but can’t be understood. I was left wondering about the truth and wondering how we could get better, higher quality info from people during conversations and debates like these. That’s when I came up with one of my “great ideas”.
What if, during political debates, each candidate was allotted a set number of minutes they could speak during the entire event? Maybe they’d each get to speak for something like 40 minutes out of the 90 minute debate. If they interrupt, those minutes would be deducted from their remaining time and added to their opponent’s remaining time. Once all of their time was used, their microphone would be shut off. If they had time left over at the end, they could use it for closing remarks. I think this would result in a lot less interrupting and it would enable us, at the very least, to evaluate their time management and maybe even communication skills.
Using these updated rules, the candidates would need to pace themselves more and interrupt less. I’d like to think that during the recent VP debate Tim Kaine would have interrupted less and Mike Pence would have spent less time trying to run down the clock with meaningless commentary. The technology needed to implement this plan either exists right now or would be very easy to implement.
We should use more Technology to eliminate at least some of our Political Frustrations. What do you think? Do you like the idea? Do you have more ideas? Let me know. Maybe we can start a movement.
Has technology ever frustrated you? If so, tell us about it on the Tech Frustrations web site.
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