Until cooler heads prevail – some things that let me calm down when reading online discussions

I was getting really frustrated about some online discussion today. It seemed other people were getting even more upset than I was (and even that is just one of many possible interpretations. I know from experience that the more frustrated I am, the less reliable my interpretations are). Instead of blowing off steam by firing of a blog post in frustration… which would let steam off on my end but could potentially multiply frustration elsewhere, I stumbled across Habits & strategy for effective listening by David Parnell. and decided to write publish on that instead. Tips for listening in a discussion can be just as useful when reading a discussion.

The source has a 15 point list of things to pay attention to when listening. That’s a bit much when you’re in a frustrated or other emotionally charged state and looking to cool down… However, there is always the old ‘no silver bullet’ to give you some hope to get started:

[..] developing quality listening habits. There is simply no silver bullet for doing this. Countless studies have shown that NOT using old habits atrophies the neural net that produces the habit and REPETITION develops new neural nets that create new habits. So the first step is to bring cognition back into the picture.

snowshoe hike at Mt. Rainier

snowshoe hike at Mt. Rainier by Troy Mason

photo found through Photo Suggest

Some of these things I already know in other forms, but it doesn’t to hurt to see similar things worded differently, it makes it stick better with me under stress. Creating new habits is something that works, even for a hard skill like communication. It ‘just’ takes lots of deliberate practice. And mistakes learning from events is part of the ‘fun’.

Be aware that the list from the source is a list of habits, numbered lists habitually give me the impression of a series of prescribed steps…

Habit 1) “establish your motives upfront” was working for me, more or less. Since I had debated this before I ‘just’ needed to establish whether my motives had changed. It seems my motives for my opinion have not changed, I’m just not sure whether I am as motivated to participate in the discussion again.

I got that from examining habit 2) “Be present” I just could not get myself to be present and stay on the game. If I had been a little more present earlier, I could have followed the suggestion:

If you have pressing needs it may make sense to jot them down quickly so that your mind is not trying to “remind” you to deal with them.

Trouble was, I had plenty of time and no pressing needs on a sunday. So I procrastinated jotting stuff down. Staying around the house with a continuing cold, a lack of sleep that won’t go away. Well, that explains why I was not present… I also felt a burning desire to write, and I  haven’t felt that in a while… Maybe it was just fever ;)

Didja Ever Have One Of Those Days . . .

Didja Ever Have One Of Those Days . . . also published as ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ by Faith Goble

photo found through Photo Suggest

Of course, all of these habits are interdependent. I was experiencing lots of emotional spiking, and was not prepared (4. be prepared for emotional spiking).

Emotional spiking is the result of the introduction of an emotion that is relationally dissimilar to your present state due to the conveyance of emotionally stimulating content or verbiage. This is unique to each person and can really be represented by everything under the sun. Cursing, certain value thresholds, particular subject matter such as sex or violence, etc… The key is to know your own hot buttons and MENTALLY PREPARE yourself with respect to how you will handle them if they arise

Emotional spiking is a strong indication that I’m not being fully present. I’ve been told that people who have been trained to kill go for a walk when this happens – an unpredictable action by a well-trained killer can be lethal…. David explains the reason for this:

The spike in emotion is your body preparing you for protection because it thinks it is in danger and the result, as of that moment, is unpredictable. So it fires up the engines to get ready for the worst.

There is a solution, but that takes lots of training. By now I’ve learnt that through training I can generate the results I want in more situations. However I expect there will always be situations in which I can not. I ‘just’ strive to reduce them. This is one of the ways it can work:

By mentally rehearsing how you will handle any of these situations, you can and do INSERT predictability into that scenario and your subconscious will go easier on the hormone release and cooler heads will indeed prevail.

What works for me is talking to another person (say, my triad or my partner), that usually helps to get some perspective.

A drunken view of a Sydney apartment block

A drunken view of a Sydney apartment block by Ian James Grant

photo found through Photo Suggest

If and when I did something unpredictable, I reflect on it with people I trust. I can then use the experience from previous situations constructively.

I took lots of breaks. Watching the judo world championships (I don’t watch sports normally) on tv. Habit 15) seems to be working for me:

Keep a clear channel – Breathe, focus and take breaks if necessary. Realize that your mind is going to be working very diligently and frantically during a prolonged discourse. Keeping a clear head can become increasingly difficult as time wears on.

Applying habit 12) Constantly seek rapport online is still a puzzle for me. It might be why I shy away from contributing to mailing lists for instance. Commenting on weblogs and responding to comments here seems doable. The space seems more confined and most people I write to I’ve met in person. Twitter seemed to provide that for me as well, but it might be more treacherous than I thought at first…

Without good rapport you will only receive inhibited information with a ton of gaps, so constantly seek to establish and keep rapport.

On to habit 11) Seek effectiveness rather than validation. It may be that in social media the balance between effectiveness and validation is different than in other ‘media’ (e.g. face to face). This seems like kicking in an open door (I’ll have to look up the british or american equivalent of that dutch saying later..), but doing is easier than knowing…

[...] Realize that it is OK to be wrong, we all are at one time or another. By seeking to learn and grow rather than win a pyrrhic victory at all cost you will exponentially improve your communication effectiveness and the quality of your life.

I’m curious what your strategies and experiences are for dealing with (online) debate, or if you’re attracted to some of the listening habits I did not mention. I was bad at listening for quite a while, but I seem to be improving. One habit at a time.

developing quality listening habits. There is simply no silver bullet for doing this. Countless studies have shown that NOT using old habits atrophies the neural net that produces the habit and REPETITION develops new neural nets that create new habits. So the first step is to bring cognition back into the picture.

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