Jon Ronson shares a story of how the twitter world can be so damaging. In 2015 a senior director of corporate communications made a tweet at the start of a flight to South Africa basically using irony to show how the USA / Western world is disconnected to issues in Africa. Except one of her 100+ followers got offended and retweeted it.
Suddenly the whole thing blew up, and people on twitter confused her with another person, (deliberately) misinterpreted her twitter, and by the time she landed in South Africa, she had lost her job. Many corporate staff, are now too scared of the reaction on twitter – that they’d sacrifice loyal staff, in case of the ire of the loud twitter brigade. Check out Jon Ronson’s Ted Talk here..
So what does that mean for you and me?
- Human nature likes to be in the safe group hating another group. The members of the hated group change over time. But for all the inclusivity and diversity, there are still out groups. In the past it might have been people of a different religion, or sexual persuasion. Now it might be people of a different political stance, or by having a faith.
- You don’t have to be a member of such a group to be seen as such. The lady of this story wasn’t racist; she was empathetic – but that didn’t stop the baying mob wanting her to lose her job.
- The baying mob wants humiliation and contrition. If you look at newspaper stories of people in court being sentenced. Most articles state ‘they didn’t show remorse’ because they looked emotionless. So you’d think if they did show emotion, they’d be showing remorse … except the newspapers don’t say that, they only say the guilty party ‘broke down in tears’ (almost as self-pity and not remorse). So how does a convict, actually show remorse? How does someone the wrong side of the baying mob show remorse?
Two choices in responding
There are two strategies with the baying mob, one of which is counter intuitive:
- If you are typically ‘naughty’, then you can brush this off. People like Bill Clinton or Boris Johnson, have the charisma to allow them to do the wrong thing and get away from it. When Max Mosley was hounded for his sexual behaviours, his response was to say ‘yeh, I do that, so what?’, and the noise disappeared. People, particularly in the UK, like the ‘loveable rogue’.
- If you are typically ‘good’, then you’re seen as hypocritical, and a grovelling apology is required. People don’t want the ‘truth’, or explanations. Only some types of reasons are allowed. So celebrities can talk about their addictions, or abusive relationships, but an addiction for a normal person might not be allowed.
So you have a clear choice in responding – fight, and fight consistently against it, or choose to apologise and be sincere about it.
6 Steps in Apologies
- Accept the truth as the other person sees it. “Your right ….”
- See it through their eyes
- Then make it clear for what you’re apologising (and it has to be about you, and not them. “I’m sorry I offended you” rather than “I’m sorry if you found this offensive”)
- Make the apology sincere (sadly actors are very good at faking being sincere!)
- Say that the problem will never happen again – and show what you’re doing about it
- Expect nothing in return.
You may well find the apology is not accepted, the baying mob still wants ‘blood’, or they ignore you and move on. You might never fix anything about it. What they don’t want is explanations, nor that they, the accuser, is wrong. So if someone’s offended then their mis-interpretation is truthful.
The only way to sway that is empathy. “oh, I can see how you could read it like that. You are right that is offensive. I’m sorry for writing it in that way. I’ll change” – even if they are wildly wrong.