Schroeder’s findings have obvious implications for all forums for communication, especially those in the workplace. The idea for her study came from a newspaper article about a politician, she told the Washington Post:
One of us read a speech excerpt that was printed in a newspaper from a politician with whom he strongly disagreed. The next week, he heard the exact same speech clip playing on a radio station. He was shocked by how different his reaction was toward the politician when he read the excerpt compared to when he heard it. When he read the statement, the politician seemed idiotic, but when he heard it spoken, the politician actually sounded reasonable.
1. WORK BACKWARDS FROM ANOTHER PERSON’S KNOWN BELIEF
We live in a world of digital, primarily text-based, communication. While that is great for convenience (you can read a message when you want to), Schroeder’s work suggests that’s horrible for times when you need to convince people who disagree with you, as people are more prone to dehumanize you when you communicate in writing.
“The intuitive tendency to dehumanize opponents stems, in part, from the fact that we’re unable to directly experience another person’s mind compared to our own,” Schroeder told me. “Instead, we have to work backwards from another person’s known belief (say, ‘Gun control is bad’) to his or her unknown thinking or reasoning. A seemingly nonsensical belief, the inference process goes, comes from a nonsensical mind.”
Of course, sometimes we have no option but to communicate via text. If this is the case, it’s imperative to be extra attentive to your choice of words and phrases. Using non-emotive, fact-based, to-the-point arguments are the best way to combat the reader’s natural penchant to dehumanize you.
2. OPT FOR IN-PERSON COMMUNICATION IF POSSIBLE
Ideally, you’ll want to always choose to convey your argument in person if you can. “Hearing a message from a political [or other] opponent can humanize the opponent, compared to reading the same message,” said Schroeder via email. “One reason for this seems to be that variance in communicators’ natural para linguistic cues in their voices (e.g., tone) can convey their thoughtfulness.”
While this may be impossible to do with the anonymous masses on Twitter or impractical with all of your Facebook friends, in the workplace, speaking to someone in person often involves nothing more than walking a few doors down to their office. And that’s exactly what you should do if you need to convince that boss or colleague of why your blueprint for the company or project is the right one.
3. VIDEO CONFERENCING IS BETTER THAN EMAIL
But even if you don’t work in the same building as your colleague, or live in the same state or country as one of your Facebook friends you’re arguing with about gun control, you’re not out of luck. It’s now easier than ever to communicate with people by voice or video call. So before sending an email or posting a message, open Skype or Facebook Messenger for an audio or video call so the recipient of your message can hear the variance and para-linguistic cues in your voice.
Only as a last resort should you try to communicate with someone who you disagree with over social media. Twitter’s limited text allowance and social media users’ short attention spans make arguing your point an uphill battle.