I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but I tend to panic when I badly misjudge how something I said will be taken and then fail to recover. I recently learned that this is apparently called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. and I certainly have at least some of the “overcompensate and bend over backward in a desperate attempt to keep themselves in others’ good graces” part.
…so, while I work toward solving that, I thought some good might as well come of it, so here are my tips for when you really need to stay in people’s good graces with minimal stress:
- Socialize in non-realtime, textual media where you have time to think through what you want to say, it’s more excusable to take a break if you’re feeling impulsive, and it may help to keep you emotionally distanced. (This also protects you from being attacked for interrupting or talking over someone, whether because you have problems with impulsive behaviour or because they’re not giving you a chance to speak.)
- It’s OK to not have an opinion on something. (There’s supposedly an excellent Marcus Aurelius quote about this, but I’m having trouble confirming the cited source.)
- Don’t imply an opinion of someone’s knowledge/competence before you know. (“What have you tried so far?”, not “Have you tried [thing they might have been asked a million times before]?”)
- Find the most “give them the benefit of the doubt” way to interpret everything they say. If you’re wrong, they’ll demonstrate it soon enough but, if you’re right, you help to keep the conversation from falling apart. (This is actually something I picked up from a textbook for a university course on constructive discourse and debate.)
- If your perspective differs from someone else’s, express it as a “I was under the impression that… What am I missing?” question. (I also recently saw the phrase “help me understand” suggested as being very useful for keeping the conversation from taking a dive. (The example given being to ask someone to explain the behaviour of some code in a case that you think is buggy, rather than starting by accusing it of being buggy.)
- Double-check your facts against sufficiently reputable sources before stating them. (i.e. No matter how certain you are, at least search Wikipedia. It’ll take 30 seconds and you’ll surprise yourself sooner or later. If it’s a quote, turn to Wikiquote. They care about proper citations. If it’s not there, check the Talk page to see if it’s a common misattribution.)
- Don’t get defensive if a group you belong to is stereotyped or attacked… especially if they’re accusations of tribalism, over-sensitivity, immaturity, or something else that getting defensive will just be evidence of. (Look for some kind of “Yeah. They really suck.” response that sympathizes, de-escalates, and implicitly indicates that you don’t see yourself as part of the same sub-group as the people they’re basing their generalization on.)
- If you are guilty of a mistake that’s called out because you didn’t know any better, apologetically admit you’re trying to change. (People are more forgiving of people who are trying to change and as long as you are genuinely trying to change now, they don’t need to know whether you started trying a moment ago or a year ago.)
- Focus on what you agree on, not what you disagree on. (They’re unlikely to change their opinion based on the views of some random stranger, so it’s better to part on peaceful terms rather than stirring up needless strife. If you continue to interact, a non-hostile first impression will help to build their opinion of you as someone whose opinion may be worth considering.)
- If it’s a community you are going to be interacting with on an ongoing basis, rather than a one-time interaction, keep an eye out for in-jokes and slang to be learned, but don’t overestimate your ability to use them correctly. (i.e. Try to have a good sense of what their intent is so you can react appropriately, but err on the side of caution in which acceptable reaction you choose.)
- Don’t use language which can be taken as accusatory. (“I just can’t seem to find the right words”, not “You keep misunderstanding”.)
- Watch out for phrasing that comes across as “changing the subject to make it about you”. (i.e. Look for opportunities and phrasings that make it feel like you’re contributing to the existing direction of the topic.)
I don’t always remember to follow those rules, but I try. Heck, the last two were instrumental in leaving one probable troll over on Reddit very frustrated.
…now watch as some troll tries to use this as a roadmap for dismantling my armour and attacking me more successfully. People online suck. (See also Penny Arcade’s March 19, 2004 strip if you’re OK with a bit of profanity)
P.S. If anyone wants to try tracking down the source themselves, the supposed Marcus Aurelius quote is “You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you.” but I’m having trouble confirming it to be from Meditations, Book 6 because Project Gutenberg’s copy uses a very different translation.
UPDATE 2022-10-18: I also like NYKevin’s strategy laid out here.
The Out-of-Touch Autism-Spectrum Shut-in Social Survival Guide For People Who Are Paranoid About People, Parties, And Other P Words by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.