When we can interact positively with others, we can do more together.
At some point in our life, all of us will have an instance where our interaction with other people, that interaction, well, stinks. It might happen more than once and that is understandable. It can be hard to interact with people! Sometimes we don't do things right. We miss cues in their body language or tone, or words that we should have seen. We might not fully grasp the implications of a situation. We respond incorrectly or with uncontrolled emotions. All of these can lead to an unpleasant interaction.
Whether it is online, or in real life, we can do better but only if we try. We have to start somewhere.
While simple in words, this useful approach to situations involving interactions we find ourselves in can be helpful to remember:
Observe, Understand, Respond Effectively
OURE, inspired by other similar acronyms, allows us a simple set of ideas that we can focus on to achieve the interactions we want. This matters when we are talking with both our friends as well as that random stranger with whom you might want to get into an online tiff. If we can focus on these three components of a good interaction, we'll be better off.
Observation is one the the most powerful tools we have. It is a bedrock of our understanding of the world and the backbone of scientific reasoning. Observation occurs when we do the best we can to identify what something is, from immediately identifiable information. When interacting with someone, observation means looking at them and seeing what they are doing. Taking note of their feet, tone, the wrinkle in their eye, What Every Body is Saying provides an excellent guide to understand some potential observables to pay attention to.
This is tricky. It can take years and even decades of experience to understand an interaction with reasonable accord. Experience can guide us to better understand what is going on, and we can gain that experience more efficiently when we put effort into doing so. Sometimes if we can perceive the intentions and goals of our interlocutor and ourselves, we can begin to navigate the complexities of interaction in such a way that we choose better responses.
If someone is pointing a gun at us and saying "give us your money," we probably know what their goals are. But most often, it might not be so apparent. To gain understanding means actively considering the situations that we are in, and with whom we are speaking. Actively thinking about how the world might look from their perspective can help us to better see what is going on. Sometimes, though, we might be dead wrong in how we understand things, so that is why it is important to avoid too many assumptions and Respond Effectively to gain a better appreciation for the situation at hand.
There's a salient saying by Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People:
"You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it, and if you win it, you lose it."
Sometime interactions with people, even if you are correct and perfectly 'right,' you can lose if you make it feel like your interlocutor is 'wrong.' Why? If they feel bad interacting with you, especially if it happens again and again, you'll have less ability to positively influence them.
Responding effectively means only not burning bridges that you might later want to cross, but responding in such a way that people feel energized that they talked with you. Even if you have incredibly different perspectives on things, you can more easily make the interaction win-win if you try to do so. A common method to do so is as follows:
Agree with your counterpart where you can. Finding commonalities between you helps to lower mutual defenses that you might have. Even resonating on off-topic concepts like your favorite sports or your respective families can help you start the interaction in a better manner. Your keen observational skills will help you find where you agree.
Repeat their arguments in the way in which you understand it, and ask for any clarifications, and do so in a way that gives validity to their considerations. If we are interacting with someone and they change what we say, or distort it such that it is a 'straw man' that can be easily taken down, we tend to not like it. If we do the same to others, then they might do the same to us, leading to a breakdown of understanding. Try to build other people's arguments up as much as you can.
Go after ideas and not people. As soon as any of us are insulted, our brains go into defensive mode, decreasing our capacity to rationally understand the world around us. A byproduct of our cerebral evolution, our brain is still hardwired for animalistic responses, and when we are attacked, whether we like it or not, we're likely to respond by either fighting, freezing, or fleeing. If we do something that others consider an attack, they'll do the same. Now, many times people attach their identity to an idea and might feel attacked if you are poking holes in concepts they have held dear. It is important to consider what values and concepts people hold dear, and push on those concepts only after you have been able to build up a stronger rapport with them.
Putting them together
While effective interactions are not always possible, they can become more possible if we put effort into making them the best they can be. If we're not in the right mood or head-space to interact positively with another person, even if we wildly disagree with them, then maybe refraining from engagement is the best thing to do. But, if we are willing to put OURE efforts into interactions, we can more efficiently communicate, prevent potential antipathy, and even build allies with people with whom we might still disagree.
When we can interact with others in a more positive way, we can better tackle the harmful information that spreads with everyone who repeats it.
We can make the world a better place with each and every interaction we have with others. That is OURE power.