Digital Manners

 Posted by on 27 March 2013 at 10:00 am  Communication, Etiquette, Technology
Mar 272013

This article — Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette — raises some fascinating questions about the evolution of manners with the rise of the internet, social media, and other new technology. It begins:

Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?

Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?

Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.

For me, the burden of online communications doesn’t come from the mere inflow per se: I’m good at reviewing, then deleting or archiving my incoming mail. (Hence, I do send those little thank-yous, as I like to acknowledge receipt and express appreciation.)

The major burden lies in what I need to do in response to some email — not just replying (which often requires a bit of research), but also making decisions, updating projects, and the like. The problem is compounded when I receive the information by some means other than email — such as a Facebook message, tweet, or text message. Those venues are perfect for quick replies, and I prefer them to email for that. But I never use them as storage, as I do my email inbox. So if I can’t reply right away, then they’ll just be forgotten. (That’s not always a bad thing!)

I expect that managing my online communications will always be something of a struggle. Yet over the last few years, I’ve done better in two ways.

  • I improved my implementation of Getting Things Done, thanks to some tips that Andrew Miner offered in this interview. I don’t have projects masquerading as tasks any longer. I don’t use artificial deadlines. Instead, I’ve gotten in the habit of making progress on critical areas of focus by just reviewing my projects and tasks, then buckling down to get some stuff done. (Amazingly, that works!)
  • I’ve developed the habit of writing very short emails. I almost never discuss anything other than logistics via email: if I want to have a serious conversation, that must be done in person or via the phone. Or, if a person has a philosophic question, that should be submitted to the queue. I engage in substantive discussion in Facebook comments pretty regularly though. That’s because others chime in with interesting remarks, the medium encourages short comments and dialogue, and I can simply drop out when I get busy.

At this point, I wonder what I can and should do to function better. So… what have you done over the past few years that has helped you better manage your digital communications?

Jimmy Wales on Criticism

 Posted by on 7 November 2012 at 2:00 pm  Communication, Criticism, WTFuffles
Nov 072012

I loved this Quora Q&A with Jimmy Wales. Here’s the question:

How does Jimmy Wales feel about his detractors?

I’ve noticed that there is a possy [sic] of Jimmy Wales detractors on Quora and elsewhere. There’s even a ‘news’ site which seems to specialise in negative stories about him.

Obviously, in business you can’t make friends of everyone, and no-one in business is a saint. So, I’m sure there’s always going to be a few disgruntled individuals, but some people in particular seem to be obsessed with doing him down.

What’s the best strategy for dealing with these kinds of difficult interactions?

Here’s Jimmy’s reply:

I’m always open to valid criticism. This is particularly true when it is offered in a constructive way and especially in a way that is actionable by me to make some improvement. “Jimmy Wales is stupid” – nothing I can do about that. “Jimmy Wales should do X” – ok, maybe I should, let’s talk about it.

Some people are just lunatics, though. I find it best to simply ignore them. For some of them, I feel bemusement that they spend – as far as I can tell – most of their spare time obsessing about me. What better way to deal with a nutcase, than to let him waste his life?

Clearly, I need to adopt that perspective on the Premise Peckers! They richly deserve it.

How to Not Answer Questions

 Posted by on 1 November 2012 at 2:00 pm  Communication, Election, Funny, Politics
Nov 012012

I’m sorely tempted to answer Rapid Fire Questions as suggested by “capital Z”:

I’ve decided that from now on I’m gonna answer every question like a presidential candidate. It’s kinda fun…

“Z, what are you doing this weekend?”

“That’s a great question — and an important one. And I WILL do something this weekend. But let me take a step back, and answer a broader question. What are we ALL doing this weekend? As a nation? As a world? This weekend, I will do something comprehensive and robust, yet fun. We all should.”

“But what are you doing?”

“What I’m gonna do involves three things. First, it’s gonna be relaxing; second, it’s gonna be enjoyable; lastly, I’m gonna make sure that it’s cost-effective and I don’t get into a deficit. Four weeks ago, I said I’d do something — and I did. This weekend will be no different.”

Pure awesome, that is.


Here’s an interesting little story from Campaign Doctor Newsletter:

The famous New York diamond dealer Harry Winston heard about a wealthy Dutch merchant who was looking for a certain kind of diamond to add to his collection. Winston called the merchant, told him that he thought he had the perfect stone, and invited the collector to come to New York and examine it.

The collector flew to New York and Winston assigned a salesman to meet him and show the diamond. When the salesman presented the diamond to the merchant he described the expensive stone by pointing out all its fine technical features. The merchant listened and praised the stone but turned away and said, “It’s a wonderful stone but not exactly what I wanted.”

Winston, who had been watching the presentation from a distance stopped the merchant and asked, “Do you mind if I show you that diamond once again?” The merchant agreed and Winston presented the same stone. But instead of talking about the technical features of the stone, Winston spoke spontaneously about his own genuine admiration of the diamond and what a rare thing of beauty it was. Abruptly, the customer changed his mind and bought the diamond.

While he was waiting for the diamond to be packaged and brought to him, the merchant turned to Winston and asked, “Why did I buy it from you when I had no difficulty saying no to your salesman?”

Winston replied, “The salesman is one of the best men in the business and he knows more about diamonds than I do. I pay him a good salary for what he knows. But I would gladly pay him twice as much if I could put into him something that I have and he lacks. You see, he knows diamonds, but I love them.”

Few people are moved by mere recitations of technical facts. On the DiSC Personality Model, High Cs can be, but most others are left cold by that.  (Recall that in DiSC, D = Dominance, I = Influence, S = Steadiness, and C = Conscientiousness.  If that doesn’t ring a loud bell for you, review this post or this podcast interview before reading further.)

However, that doesn’t imply that the other DiSC types — meaning, the High Ds, Is, and Ss of the world — are indifferent to facts or blindly driven by their emotions. Rather, I suspect that for them (or rather, us), motivation involves stronger emotions, different emotions, and perhaps more emotional expression.

All motivation requires emotion, I think. (That’s major part of Aristotle “action theory”, and I agree with it.) For C’s, the requisite emotional motivation seems to be tightly bound to the facts: they want to be right, most of all. (Hence, if you’re in a conflict with a High C over who is right… watch out! I’ve seen some scary-strong emotions from High Cs when challenged.)

Ds can seem unemotional — particularly unconcerned with the emotions of other people.  In fact, they’re highly motivated by feelings of power and capacity associated with achievement.  It’s their (er, my) drug.

Among the two people-oriented types, Is and Ss, the motivating emotions will be quite different. For High Is the emotions of excitement associated with new ideas, people, experiences, and challenges will have the most motivational force. High Ss find that daunting, but they’ll be motivated by feelings of sympathy and care.

Importantly, such personality differences never override a person’s free will choice to think or not. Whatever the strength, content, and source of a person’s motivating emotions, he can choose to recognize the facts for what they are and think them through rationally.  If he wants to be happy and successful, he’d better do that!

As for practical advice, I’d like to limit myself to two quick points:

First, just because someone seems less emotional than you doesn’t mean that they’re indifferent, that they don’t care, or that they’re some kind of robot in human form.

Second, just because someone seems more emotional than you doesn’t mean that they’re unthinking, that they’re indifferent to facts, or that they’re some kind of wild-eyed emotionalist.

Other people’s personalities differ in a million ways from yours.  Some of those differences are ginormous, while others are minor.  If you attempt to read everyone through the lens of your own personality, the only result is that you’ll find most people quite baffling, if not seriously frustrating.  This issue of emotion in motivation in just one example.

That’s why the DiSC Personality Model is so helpful, I think.  It focuses on two major axes of difference — assertive versus reserved and thing-oriented versus people-oriented.  Those axes are of particular importance for communication and collaboration with other people.  By learning DiSC, you can understand yourself better, including your strengths and weaknesses.  You can understand and appreciate the ways in which others differ from you too. It’s a gold mine!

Great Minds? Maybe Not

 Posted by on 19 July 2012 at 11:00 am  Communication, Personality
Jul 192012

Guess what, folks? It’s not small-minded, second-handed, or otherwise undesirable to be interested in people. People are amazing wellsprings of knowledge, innovation, and values. They’re complex, nuanced, and unique. People matter to our lives, hugely.

Unless you allow other people to trump facts, to be interested in people is not any kind of moral or intellectual taint. To condemn that is to claim moral superiority based on differences in personality and preference. That is a mistake — a huge mistake.

Yes, I’m aware the poster probably means to condemn gossip, but not all gossip is malicious, destructive, or petty. Gossip can be a form of benevolent interest in other people in your community, as I discussed in this webcast.

Jul 132012

From Great ‘Hello’ Mystery Is Solved:

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But Thomas Alva Edison coined the greeting. The word “hello,” it appears, came straight from the fertile brain of the wizard of Menlo Park, N.J., who concocted the sonorous syllables to resolve one of the first crises of techno-etiquette: What do you say to start a telephone conversation?

Here’s the interesting part, for me:

Like the telephone, the punchy “hello” was a liberator and a social leveler. “The phone overnight cut right through the 19th-century etiquette that you don’t speak to anyone unless you’ve been introduced,” Mr. Koenigsberg said. And “hello” was the edge of the blade.

Thank goodness for that! I abhor any and all forms of artificial social hierarchy. A person that you don’t know as an individual should be treated with the same respect and consideration — whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, of respectable family or not, and so on. A person is not entitled to deference just because he was born into wealth or title. A person’s preferences should not be dismissed just because she’s young. A person is not of dubious character just because he’s poor. Moreover, a person’s wrong behavior should not be excused or indulged because of his talents or accomplishments, even if considerable.

Now, unless you read a good chunk of 18th and 19th century literature, you might not be familiar with just how much social leveling has happened in the 20th century. The rules of introduction used to be extremely strict. For example, consider this passage from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where the ridiculous mess of pomposity and idiocy known as Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy.

“I have found out,” said [Mr. Collins], “by a singular accident, that there is now in the room a near relation of my patroness. I happened to overhear the gentleman himself mentioning to the young lady who does the honours of the house the names of his cousin Miss de Bourgh, and of her mother Lady Catherine. How wonderfully these sort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meeting with, perhaps, a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this assembly! I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trust he will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology.”

“You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!” [said Elizabeth Bennet.]

“Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine’s nephew. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance. Mr. Collins listened to her with the determined air of following his own inclination, and, when she ceased speaking, replied thus:

“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in your excellent judgement in all matters within the scope of your understanding; but permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.” And with a low bow he left her to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not hear a word of it, she felt as if hearing it all, and saw in the motion of his lips the words “apology,” “Hunsford,” and “Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” It vexed her to see him expose himself to such a man. Mr. Darcy was eyeing him with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr. Collins allowed him time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr. Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Mr. Darcy’s contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of his second speech, and at the end of it he only made him a slight bow, and moved another way. Mr. Collins then returned to Elizabeth.

“I have no reason, I assure you,” said he, “to be dissatisfied with my reception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. He answered me with the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that he was so well convinced of Lady Catherine’s discernment as to be certain she could never bestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him.”

As much as I love Jane Austen, I’m so glad not to live in her world. If I did, I’d surely be some family’s troublesome and impertinent servant, taking liberties left and right!

I’m even glad that our culture has become less formal in the last 30 years, such that people are immediately on a first-name basis. Really, I just couldn’t imagine calling Paul “Dr. Hsieh,” as we see in Jane Austen novels. (Then again, my pet name for Paul is “Mr. Woo,” which is partly a joke on the conventions of Jane Austen’s time!)

In sum, thank you, dear telephone!

Oh, and one final thought: This seems to be a clear case in which a major cultural shift was instigated by technology, rather than by any intellectual or philosophical changes. Of course, the culture had to be ripe for the change — and America’s ethos of the self-made individual is far more compatible with an etiquette of social equality than with an etiquette of social hierarchy. Nonetheless, the technology made a huge difference — and the internet and social media is pushing us even further in that direction. (Yay!)

In essence, cultural change requires and involves philosophy, but that doesn’t mean that philosophy — let alone philosophy departments — will be the catalyst.

Jul 102012

In tomorrow evening’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll discuss DiSC Personality Types with Santiago Valenzuela. Santiago introduced me to DiSC, and I’ve found it hugely useful for understanding my own defaults and preferences, including in communication, as well as that of others. It’s far more useful, I think, than other personality schemes like Meyers-Briggs.

Here, before the broadcast, I want to introduce you to some of the basics of DiSC.

DiSC is a personality inventory focused on predicting behavior, particularly a person’s default behavior. Remember though, personality is not destiny. A person can always choose to act against the grain of his personality.

DiSC has two axes: (1) assertive versus reserved and (2) people-oriented versus task-oriented (or better, thing-oriented). Those two axes yield four personality profiles — Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. People are often blends of multiple types.

Here are the four quadrants, taken from this DiSC Basics PDF from Manager Tools:

Wikipedia summarizes the four types nicely:

Dominance: People who score high in the intensity of the “D” styles factor are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while low “D” scores are people who want to do more research before committing to a decision. High “D” people are described as demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong willed, driving, determined, ambitious, aggressive, and pioneering. Low D scores describe those who are conservative, low keyed, cooperative, calculating, undemanding, cautious, mild, agreeable, modest and peaceful.

Influence: People with high “I” scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are described as convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, demonstrative, trusting, and optimistic. Those with low “I” scores influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. They are described as reflective, factual, calculating, skeptical, logical, suspicious, matter of fact, pessimistic, and critical.

Steadiness: People with high “S” styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. High “S” individuals are calm, relaxed, patient, possessive, predictable, deliberate, stable, consistent, and tend to be unemotional and poker faced. Low “S” intensity scores are those who like change and variety. People with low “S” scores are described as restless, demonstrative, impatient, eager, or even impulsive.

Contentiousness: People with high “C” styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High “C” people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, and tactful. Those with low “C” scores challenge the rules and want independence and are described as self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and unconcerned with details.

You can take a free DiSC test. However, in my experience, those results aren’t nearly as accurate as the $27 test from Manager Tools. That test offers a detailed and useful report too. If you like, you can view my DiSC report (PDF). I’m the classic “results-oriented” pattern, meaning high D, lesser I, no S, and a bit of C.

For Wednesday’s broadcast, you might want to print a copy of Manager Tools’ DiSC Cheat Sheet: How to Be Effective with DiSC Every Day (PDF).

Also, I strongly recommend listening to the core Manager Tools Podcasts on DiSC:

You can find more awesome podcasts on DiSC in the full Manager and Career Tools feeds. (Those feeds are available to anyone who registers for free on their web site.)

I’m super-excited to talk about DiSC tomorrow evening — and I hope that you’ll join us! As usual, the live show airs at 6 pm PT / 7 pm MT / 8 pm CT / 9 pm ET. Later that evening, I’ll post the audio on the archive page.

Thank You Hater!

 Posted by on 12 June 2012 at 2:00 pm  Communication, Funny
Jun 122012

I love this song for the haters so much:

I’m going to start posting a link to it whenever someone behaves like an ass on the internet. Hmmm… in that case, I’d better just keep the URL in my clipboard at all times.

Funny Versus Offensive

 Posted by on 15 May 2012 at 8:00 am  Communication, Conservatism, Election, Politics
May 152012

As a follow-up to my recent webcast discussion on poking fun of friends’ ideas online, I’d say that this kind of image is objectively offensive:

It’s not just partisan tripe. It’s collectivist tripe. It’s totally unjustifiable tripe.

People deserve to be judged as individuals. Many liberals are thoughtful people, while many conservatives are flatly dishonest. Liberals tend to be better than conservatives on many important issues: separation of church and state, abortion rights, drug legalization, immigration, limiting police power, and so on. Most conservatives are utterly wrong on those issues, and many will not listen to reason.

When I saw that image in my Facebook feed, I reposted it with the following snippy remark:

I’m pretty sure that such partisan crowing and sniping never convinced anyone of anything. Also, I’m quite sure that people of every political persuasion are enamored of their own set of myths and dogmas. How about working on being more persuasive? It’s harder than you think.

More than anything else in politics, I loathe unprincipled partisan bickering. “My team is GREAT! Your team SUCKS!” is harmless enough in sports. But in politics, people’s rights — and hence, people’s lives and values — are at stake. Is it too much to ask for some concern for principle, i.e. individual rights? Alas, based on the 2012 election so far, we have every reason to expect nothing but unprincipled partisan bickering.

Apr 272012

I love a bit of silly, including in work. That’s certainly reflected in my own style of webcasting and blogging. Happily, lots of people enjoy that: I routinely receive e-mails expressing delight that I make exploring ethics and philosophy enjoyable, as opposed to feeling like a burden or a chore.

Recently, I discovered that MailChimp takes their form of silly to a particularly high level of awesome. Let me explain.

MailChimp is an e-mail newsletter service, and I use it for my weekly Philosophy in Action Newsletter. (Not yet subscribed? Gack! Get yourself subscribed today!) I’ve been really pleased with their offerings and prices. (They’re better than Constant Contact, particularly on price.)

I’ve also been entertained by their little touches of irreverence. So in their header, they’ll have their chimp logo say and link to something amusing. For example:

That links to this silly video of Chimpanzee Outtakes.

Even better, the bacon lance:

That links to this awesome video:

It gets even better than that, however. In my settings, I found this switch for “Party Pooper Mode.”

So yes, you can turn off the bits of humor in MailChimp. But if you do that, they’re going to poke a bit of fun at you, just one last time. I love it!

Some people, I’m sure, find such humor quite offensive. I’ve noticed that some people seem to think that a person can’t be doing good work unless dead serious. Yet a bit of observation easily proves that false. Particularly in customer service, a touch of humor can brighten a person’s mood and create goodwill. (Think Southwest Airlines!) The same is often true for dealing with co-workers, clients, suppliers, and the like: a touch of benevolent humor can make the work so much more enjoyable.

With the use of humor, a person must aim for that Aristotelian mean — meaning using humor “at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way.” That “mean” may depend on the individual too, as people differ in their senses of humor — often purely as a matter of personality, not morality. Of course, it’s good to be sensitive to the preferences of others.

So if you think that philosophy or business or politics or romance or sex or parenting or almost any other pursuit in life is TOO IMPORTANT to ever be lightened by benevolent humor… think again. Heck, even dour-faced rationalism can be funny!

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