I feel like our modern society has really changed how people communicate, even in a professional sense. Feuds, backbiting, and disagreements have existed since the dawn of time, of course, but things seemed more discreet and measured. Now you have social media and cameras catching every reaction and opinion pieces that stir up drama. It feels like every day there’s a new flare-up that could have benefited from some time, consideration, and civility.
I’m thinking of two recent incidents that have been in the news lately. One occurred between news anchor Ashleigh Banfield and a young reporter who was invited to appear on Banfield’s show to discuss an article she’d written in which a source described an unpleasant sexual encounter with the actor Aziz Ansari. Banfield had been critical of the source’s account in a previous broadcast. The reporter, Katie Way, obviously felt offended by the criticism, which is understandable. But instead of taking the opportunity to discuss the matter on Banfield’s show in a civilized debate, or even simply decline to appear, Way issued an angry email that attacked Banfield’s reputation, age, and physical appearance. The email has since gone public (of course) and has been cited as an example of how not to act in a professional manner.
Just yesterday, Megyn Kelly appeared on her show to attack the actress Jane Fonda for being offended by Kelly’s questions about her plastic surgery. Whether or not you like Fonda’s politics, it was startling to see a professional journalist lambast devote air time to lambasting an 80-year-old woman simply because she didn’t want to talk about her face. It felt petty and unprofessional, and undercut whatever argument she was trying to make.
Disagreements happen. Many of them are things that we can eventually get over once we take a beat, cool down, and get some perspective. If you still can’t let go, tread carefully. Life may be short, but careers are long. There’s no sense in burning bridges, especially over a trivial matter. Before firing off an angry email or tweet, consider whether or not it’s something you’d want a prospective employer to read. Seek advice from a sensible friend or colleague, don’t sink to petty insults, and keep asking yourself if this is the hill you want to die on.
It’s possible to disagree with respect. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, go high when they go low. A friend of mine took this approach the other day when she got a rude email from someone she had contacted about a work project. Her first reaction was to fire off a defensive email and tell the person to forget about the project. By the time she got round to it, however, she decided to dial down her anger and addressed the person’s concerns in a calm, respectful manner. In the end, the two were able to get on the same page and the project will carry on smoothly.
Pick your battles. Be civil. Focus on responding, not reacting.