If You Want to be Heard

Posted by Ben on 2011-08-13

Awhile back Tria mentioned something on Facebook that really struck me. I don’t remember the exact quote (and yes I’m lazy enough that I’m not going to look it up), but it was something to the effect of, “It’s a shame that people assume just because someone’s an asshole that means they’re wrong.” And strictly speaking, that’s true. The biggest jerk in the world is allowed to have good ideas and know fact from fiction. Separating a message’s content from the attitude of the messenger is an amazingly hard skill to master, but overall people who can learn the skill are better off for it.

But there’s a flip side to the argument. While it’s true that people need to learn to weigh the merit of ideas independent of the speaker, people should bear in mind, if you want your idea heard: try not being a douche. All social interactions, at their core, are two way streets. One person talks, and the other person listens. But the thing is, just because someone is talking doesn’t mean anyone has to listen to them. One of the speaker’s main jobs is to get people to listen to their message. Last I checked belittling and insulting people is probably not the best way to get them to come around to your point of view. It is a great way to piss them off and make them hostile toward you, so if that’s your intent, by all means go ahead and be an asshole.

However, most of the time people start a discussion someone is trying change someone else’s mind, explain a point of view, or just show a better way to do things. In that case (most cases) being a jerk is not helpful to your cause. In fact hiding behind The Truth and letting it be your shield so you can be an insensitive clod can actually work against your cause. The Truth (of whatever topic you’re trying to present) is useless if no one is willing to hear it. In some simple cases (2+2=4) what’s true and what’s not quickly becomes apparent. But no one every discusses those do they? In more complex issues it’s easy to get muddled and mixed up and you can go years, even lifetimes before the truth of the matter comes out (like: Is there a God?). Often subjects don’t have a particular truth behind them, and you’re just trying explain your viewpoint to someone. This rant is a great example. It’s not specifically wrong to be an asshole when talking to people, the Asshole Police aren’t going to put you in jail, there’s no Asshole Law of physics that says you physically can’t be an asshole when talking to people. But I’m trying to point out that, it can be counter-productive.

No one likes to be told they’re wrong, it takes a lot of willpower to overcome what could be decades of learning when new information comes to light. Being belittled at the same time, even implicitly (through tone of voice, facial expressions or body movement) just makes it that much harder to change your mind. So the simple solution is to not belittle people when you’re are trying to change their mind. Help them out, let them know you don’t think any worse of them for their view points, they were probably just feed misinformation and don’t know any better (or at the very least try to pretend you don’t think any worse of them). If you make it clear that you’re on their side, then they’ll be more willing to at least try to see your point of view.

As I said earlier: Any social interaction is a two way street. Both sides have to be willing to deal with one another. People would be better if they learned to listen to the content of an argument separate from how abrasive it’s presentation is, but at the same time people also have to realize that they’ll get a much better response if they don’t make their arguments abrasive in the first place. Being correct doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole, but just because someone is an asshole doesn’t mean you can ignore what they’re saying. If we could just stop and listen to each other once in awhile, I think everyone would be a little better off.