Mom Was a Genius

There’s sure a lot of noise in the world these days. Unfortunately, much of the noise is angry. Social media eruptions occur continuously. People attack each other as human beings – maybe more so than they argue ideas with which they disagree. Twitter, Facebook, e-mails and text messages can be toxic and dripping with vitriol. And once a meme goes viral the crowd frenzy snowballs with everyone piling on. It’s no wonder that stress levels are high, and unhappiness has reached similar proportions. This is a dangerous environment for entrepreneurs (and everyone else for that matter).

I find it interesting that when those who yell the loudest find themselves in a room, one-on-one with someone who is their target, their demeanor changes. Suddenly there is a living and breathing individual – much like themselves – sitting across the table in a face-to-face setting. For some reason the bellicosity and histrionics melt away. One-on-one, civility emerges, and a rational conversation may occur. I call this the “talking tough behind the locked screen door” syndrome. Many people seem to be less inhibited when they aren’t having to personally interact with the individual with whom they disagree. They are easily triggered and react instantly and in an amplified manner. The one-dimensional aspect of communicating in a written format seems to be emboldening. Add the mob mentality to the equation and it quickly becomes a powder keg that could explode (and often does) without any notice.

As a youngster growing up my mother had a simple technique for dealing with anger. I’ll bet your mother used the same technique. When I got spun up about something and was ready to lash out, she would say, “Lee, count slowly to ten.” Most of the time it worked. By the time I reached ten, my frustration had defused somewhat, and I was becoming calmer and more rational. My mom was a genius back in the day! Either mothers today aren’t teaching the 10-Count Rule, or it’s been forgotten.

As an entrepreneur here’s something I’ve learned. I don’t enter into any discussion on social media that could become contentious. There’s nothing whatsoever to be gained and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind utilizing this format. I also have learned not to engage via e-mail in subject matter that could result in conflict. Think about it. We receive an e-mail – perhaps from an external source – that we may perceive as accusatory. Our immediate impulse may be to fire off a response that is defensive and lobs a few grenades in the other direction as well. We are indignant that someone attacked us in an e-mail, and we are going to fight back and “win” the argument with our prose. But does this really work? Are we changing minds or are we simply contributing to the entrenchment of each other’s positions?

The minute I smell conflict in a written communication, I typically short-circuit it with a face-to-face conversation (most preferable); a video call (next most preferable) or a phone call (least preferable). I like to be physically present for the ensuing conversation so that I can “read” the other person and show authentic empathy. I’m not interested in fighting but seek resolution. I’m not interested in escalation but seek common ground. We still may disagree, but we can do so respectfully and avoid hard feelings.

Even in face-to-face situations there may still be times when tempers flare and personal accusations boil over. This is a perfect time for Mom’s 10-Count Rule. I prefer to let the other person finish their rant and then become still and quiet for a moment (counting to at least 10 in my head). I may say something like, “I hear your frustration and think I understand where we disagree.” But I’m not about to engage in emotional dialogue and will likely ignore the personal attacks. I will speak in a quiet and deliberate voice and review the facts of the situation. Ultimately, we may agree to disagree, but at least I have avoided belittling the other person and making them feel even worse. Some may think that this is manipulation. I think it’s simply the concept of “it takes two to tango,” and I’m not going to be one of the two.

The 10-Count Rule isn’t about knocking the other person out of the argument. Instead it’s about maintaining our composure and self-control to dial back confrontation in order to reach an acceptable resolution for all parties.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.