You know how it goes. You post your opinion on Facebook. Somebody else disagrees. Another “friend” takes issue with one or both of you. And then it’s off to the races! People start piling on. And calling names. Challenging each other’s intelligence, moral standards and, quite possibly, parentage.
How do things get so out of hand so quickly? Well of course part of the problem is that those other people are wrong.
But the real issue is this: Facebook is the wrong medium for the discussion. And that goes for email and texting too.
We’d be way better off having an actual conversation about the subject of our disagreement. The science says there’s something about hearing a person’s voice that changes our perspective.
The medium for the debate makes such a difference that researchers at Berkeley and the University of Chicago titled the report on their work “The Humanizing Voice: Speech Reveals, and Text Conceals, a More Thoughtful Mind in the Midst of Disagreement.”
Speech reveals. And text conceals. Interesting.
Here’s what happens. People read an opinion online or in an email, and if they disagree, they draw some conclusions about the person who posted it. Those conclusions are often not positive.
The research showed that we’re likely to dehumanize the person who posted a contrary view. We regard them as “having a diminished capacity to either think or feel.” When they write an opinion we don’t like, we see them as more “superficial, mechanical and cold.”
But that negative reaction to their strong opinion was less likely when people watched a video or listened to an audio recording of them making the same polarizing arguments.
Even when listeners disagreed with the substance, they more often perceived the person they heard as sophisticated, cultured, and thinking like an adult instead of a child. And as “emotional, responsive, and warm.”
Interestingly, there wasn’t much difference between evaluations of video and audio recordings, suggesting that it’s not the person’s appearance that matters. It’s really the voice that makes them sound like a smart, warm human instead of a robot.
Specific variations in how people speak – such as different use of tone and how often they pause – convey thoughtfulness. That may be why people perceive speakers as more human than writers.
Given all that, are we likely to reach an agreement when we try to one-up each other in emails or texts or comments on Facebook? Not really.
I came across a story about this study in Inc. after a rough few days online. I like having Facebook friends with divergent views; I’m not big on the unfriending thing. I think I benefit from hearing what others have to say. And besides, I like some of those people. Not just a Facebook thumbs-up “like;” I mean I actually have relationships with them in real life.
I hate it, though, when these friends attack each other. I’m not in favor of nasty and vulgar.
As the ugly comments piled up on my post about the Parkland school shooting, every notification of another comment put a knot in my stomach.
I didn’t want to see any more vitriol. And I didn’t want other people to keep seeing it on my timeline. So I finally deleted the whole thread.
Here’s the thing. As much as it seems that folks sign into Facebook itching for a fight, there must be a lot who recoil, as I did, from name-calling and negativity.
I posted the Inc. piece about this research on my Facebook page. Title: “You Should Never, Ever Argue with Anyone on Facebook, According to Science.”
At last count, 2,421 people had seen my post. And it was shared 32 times.
That’s a lot of people ratifying the idea that we should stop this stuff.
Ironically, the first person to comment on the article took issue with its conclusion. The second person took issue with her. And he went on to excoriate me—repeatedly and in increasingly personal ways—for not taking his side. So maybe not everybody’s ready to call a truce.
This science does suggest that we should hold our fire on Facebook. And in any other medium where someone’s going to read what we think.
Before you fire off that email or take to Twitter to give them a piece of your mind, consider this. You’d be better off to pick up the phone and talk to them. Go out for coffee and conversation.
You may never agree, even in a verbal exchange. But when you hear them and they hear you, you both come across as real, thinking-and-feeling humans. And that’s a start. Or as the researchers conclude…
“If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person’s voice to be heard.”
Second best? Share your observations in the comments below. Or just call me …