As a “Baby Boomer”, I’m old enough to remember a world without computers, the Internet, blogging and social media – the days of pencils, paper, stamps, payphones, rotary dialing, social centers, happy hours, discos, and all the other “analog” ways we used to communicate and meet up with each other.
To navigate that (now) ancient world, we learned that by operating under some pretty simple rules, we could successfully, in the immortal words of Dale Carnegie, “win friends and influence people“.
But now that we’ve moved much of this playing field to the digital realm, new levels of complication have ensued. This technology “depersonalizes” our modern communication because of its brutal efficiency (read that as the myriad of Social Media applications and their vast family of add-ons) and two-dimensional dynamic (computerized words on a flat page).
There’s no time to think. We can’t hear a voice. We can’t smell someone’s perfume on letter paper. We can’t feel the vibe of a human in close proximity. All we have is cold, digitized and processed text that we often need to respond to immediately.
There is good news here – because of the technology we can have vastly more friends than we used to, all over the world. The bad news is that these friendships are typically a mile wide and an inch deep.
Which brings me back to those analog rules again. Can we still apply them today when the word “friend” is applied ever more loosely?
Of course we can. And we should, for no other reason than to keep our new “digital social centers” a civil and enjoyable place to go.
So allow me to kick it old school, with a little help from Dale Carnegie, and relate those old rules to the present day:
- Be Polite – Just because you can hide behind an avatar doesn’t give you the right to not use basic courtesy in your communications. “Please“, “Thank You“, and “I’m Sorry” should never go out of style.
- Whatever Language You Use, Use It Properly- and Spell It Properly Too – Nothing says “I don’t really care” than something poorly written and horribly misspelled. Oh, and try not to forget punctuation too (as tough as that may be on things like Twitter).
- Be Genuinely Interested in What Others Have to Say – This is not a one-way, broadcast medium (at least for me). Engage, ask questions – make the other person feel important. That’s Carnegie 101.
- Use the Other Person’s Name – Carnegie said that “A man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. Think about your own experience – doesn’t an online response always carry more value when the sender uses your name?
- If You Don’t Have Something Positive to Say, Don’t Say it – Especially in Public – I know, this is really old school. This is the 21st Century, right? Everybody has a digital soapbox now, and are free to critique anybody, and it’s now much easier because you don’t have to look anyone in the eye when you do it. Wrong. Carnegie was right here too – you CAN change someone’s mind without giving offense.
- Smile– There are lots of ways to let the other person know you are smiling, even when they can’t see you. Let your writing be friendly, positive, generous and encouraging. Show a “lightness of being”. Tell a silly joke or two, perhaps even at your own expense. And yes, use these every now and then 🙂
After all, good friends are one of our most precious resources – so remembering these old lessons is likely to win you more than your share (even in a cacophany of Tweets) – and the payoff of a much more fulfilling life.