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5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place: “Practice a form of active listening” with Phil La Duke

Practice a form of active listening, Before snapping back with the first thing that enters your head, make sure you understand exactly what the person is trying to communicate. Start by identifying the emotion, “I’m sensing that you are angry…” allows the person to move from the emotional state to a logical state. Paraphrase, say […]

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Practice a form of active listening, Before snapping back with the first thing that enters your head, make sure you understand exactly what the person is trying to communicate. Start by identifying the emotion, “I’m sensing that you are angry…” allows the person to move from the emotional state to a logical state. Paraphrase, say things like, “So what you are saying is…” continue doing that until you completely understand both what the person is feeling AND what the person wants from you (it could be sympathy, advise, or nothing at all), only when you truly understand the message should you respond.


As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Phil La Duke. Phil La Duke is an author, blogger, and global consultant. He has two published books I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Businessand Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook of Workplace Violence Prevention which was listed as #16 on the 49 Books Powerful Women Study In Detail by Pretty Progressive magazine. Phil has penned hundreds of articles and been published in Entrepreneur, Authority, Medium, Thrust Global, just to name a few.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Phil! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up in a rural community with nothing much to do but use my imagination. I always had a gift for writing and turning a colorful phrase. I am an extrovert by nature and wrote for my college newspaper. When I was managing a restaurant and a gentleman came in right before closing he apologized and I told him it was no problem. It was election day, and I had previously worked as an exit poll taker so I asked him if he was doing something similar. He turned out to be the editor of the local weekly newspaper and ultimately offered me a job as a stringer. I worked with him, and then his predecessor until I had to get a grown up job. I worked building seats at General Motors in Detroit until I was (along with 60,000 other workers) encouraged to explore other career opportunities. I went back to school and soon found a job as head of training for a large construction management company. Eventually I grew to miss writing so I started writing and submitting articles to magazines. I still work as a principal consultant at a global consulting firm, but do writing on the side.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story since I started my career was when a white paper I had written, What’s Wrong With Safety Training and How To Fix It was published on our company website. One day, while looking for it on Google I found that a trade publication had, without my knowledge or permission, published it as an article in the magazine. I wasn’t mad, far from it. I called the editor to see how this happened and he told me that he stumbled across it when doing research and decided to run it. He said he hoped I wasn’t mad, and one thing led to another and I was soon his regular safety columnist.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My funniest mistake was probably not Googling my name first. As it turns out there is another Phil LaDuke and he also writes for trade publications. I immediately added the space between the “a” and the “D” and became “Phil La Duke” I learned the importance of doing research BEFORE you decide on how to market and brand yourself.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am promoting Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook of Workplace Violence Prevention mostly book signings and speeches. If I can get the message out that we can predict and prevent workplace attacks and we can protect our workers, I think it will help save a great many people. Also, there are many so-called experts who are treating workplace violence (where the killer typically knows and has targeted a specific victim) from mass shootings (where the killer doesn’t care who he kills he only wants a big body count) and this bad advice will get people killed. It can get frustrating but you can never let your frustration get the better of you and interfere with what is really important.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

I have had death threats, and threats of beatings, been called everything but a child of God. My writing is designed to be visceral — -to get underneath the walls that people throw up to prevent a shift in attitude. Many people get emotional and just plain mean. They also try to get other people to join them in mocking you. I have developed a thick skin and I won’t say it doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t bother me for long.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I let them vent, I let them call me names and while I am not exactly nice to them, I try to maintain some civility. The more neutral my response the more they escallate the attacks. I let it go on and then I will post something like, “I applaud your courage for taking such an aggressive and threatening tone in such a public forum. I am sure your boss, clients, prospective employers, love interests, neighbors, and family will appreciate you bearing your soul and showing your true colors.” At this point they realize that this isn’t an angry exchange in a parking lot but something that millions of people could potentially see and that their behavior that the behavior could have lasting and severe, life-changing consequences.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

I have always said, “I never know where the line is until after I have crossed it” and yes I have posted things that were harsh and mean. In fact, probably more than most people. I can’t think of a single one that I regretted, because I try to respond to a position not personal attacks. On the other hand if I think someone is an imbecile I will call them out on it.

Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?

A friend of mine from high school suffered a closed head injury and I didn’t know the extent to which his mental capacity had been diminished. He would post long, rambling, non-sequiturs in response to my posts. They read like he was drunk or high. After a short while I lost my patience with him and told him that if he “couldn’t construct a coherent response that he should just shut up and keep his lunatic ramblings to himself”. His wife and sister-in-law lit into me (never mentioning his diminished mental state) and I blocked the lot of them. I later learned that he had suffered a horrible brain injury and really COULDN’T construct a coherent post. I feel bad that he suffered a life-altering injury, but I don’t feel any guilt at what I wrote or said to him or his defenders, but I regret that I was acting on incomplete information.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

First of all, when one becomes a public figure one has to realize that people who don’t know you will develop irrational emotions toward you. I had a man from Australia write to me who I later learned was severely mentally ill and potentially dangerous. He went from being complementary and nice to being outright hostile and aggressive. Another man tore into me on another social media platform and was relentless in his personal attacks. Eventually I blocked him. How does it feel? A bit like a stranger coming up to you on the street and with zero provocation starts insulting you and your family. But since it is in writing you can’t really gauge whether this person is dangerous or not. It can be frightening. Let’s not forget that Sal Mineo and John Lennon were murdered simply because they were famous. But after awhile you get desensitized to it, and like I mentioned before when people at like a jackass by posting things online it tells the world what kind of person they are. Then again, politicians especially, and celebrities of all sorts have to understand that people will post hateful things about them and they can’t react like a felt up prom date. I admire Chelsea Clinton; here is a person who has to suffer the worst vitrile and horrible insults — -far more than anyone else who is not in an elected office — -and yet responds not just politely but cheerfully. She is a far better person than I am.

Do you think a verbal online attacks feel worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

I think verbal arguments in “real life” are far worse than verbal online attacks, chiefly because when you are interacting in person you can read people’s body language, and there is a very real chance that things could quickly escalate out of control and become violent. Online attacks can be hurtful to be sure, but seldom do they escalate to the point of violence. Also, online attacks invite people to both defend and attack you. I have been attacked online only to have highly respected members of the online community come to my defense and that feels pretty terrific.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

Hopefully none. There are so many ways to block the haters and to repair your image. I think someone who has been shamed on line needs to ask him or herself if he or she should be ashamed. If you did something of which you legitimately be ashamed, own it. Begin by publicly acknowledging that what you did was wrong/inappropriate/showed poor judgment or whatever. Apologize to the people you have harmed or wronged and then move on. Don’t be defensive, but if you feel that the shaming was inappropriate, simply post “I’m sorry that you feel that way” and again move on. Always remember that you can’t use logic to win an emotional argument.

Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?

  1. We don’t get the benefit of nonverbal communication. Experts believe that between 90%-95% of our communication is nonverbal. So if someone who is overweight posts a picture of a high calorie dessert it’s easy for someone to make a snide crack about the other person’s weight. In person, the other person can see how the overweight person struggles and may even see the nonverbal “it makes me sad that I can’t eat that” message. Along those same lines, people’s tone of voice that may indicate that the person is just joking, being sarcastic, or otherwise intending no offense is completely lost.
  2. We don’t get immediate feedback. Even if our post gets a response fairly quickly it is not as likely as fast as if we said it to someone in person. When we say something to someone in person they often react with their whole body, and if you have crossed the line you know it. The lack of immediate feedback emboldens people to say much harsher things than they would in person.
  3. Loss of nonverbal communication means we can’t empathize. If I am lighting in to you about how stupid and repugnant your political views I can’t see you tearing up, or your face reddening, or you fist balled so tight that you look like you are going to punch me in the head. I can’t know what your feeling because all I have is your words on which to base my opinion.
  4. Most of us post as if we are talking to ourselves and no one else. If I am posting about some jerk who cut me off in traffic and I refer to the person using less than nice language, or even ethnic, gender, or racial slurs, people see us as bigots, even though we may not see ourselves in that way. We may also say “anybody that believes in x is an ignorant jerk” out of sheer frustration but we AREN’T talking to ourselves.

If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?

Some of the people who have read my on-line posts may laugh out loud when they read this (I really have to practice what I preach) but essentially I would suggest that everyone should:

  1. Take a moment before you react. If you’re a dog lover and someone has just posted, “I hate dogs and I think all dogs should be poisoned”. You feel a strong emotional response. Say it out loud, heck scream it out loud. Pet your dog, or look at a picture of a beloved dog that has passed away and you miss, or go for a walk. But don’t post anything in a highly emotional or agitated state. Even some of my most poison-penned responses have been well thought out and I deliberated on how to respond before telling someone off. But being an internet jerk is part of my brand.
  2. Remember, not every post is directed at you. It’s not always about you and in the self-absorption and narcissism that is social media it’s easy to forget that every comment or post isn’t directed at you. People take offense, even if the thought was posted with no malicious intent, and that is absurd. I once wrote an article for Entrepreneur and the photo they chose to accompany it was a dog with multi-colored painted spots on it. It was obviously photo-shopped and the trained eye could see this, and yet I was taken to task in a harsh and insulting way for promoting the practice of “dog painting” a practice the reader found horribly abusive. I politely explained that a) I didn’t select the photo (or any photos that accompanied my articles, for that matter) and b) the dog hadn’t been painted it had been photoshopped. She didn’t care. She lit into me even more because even though the dog had not been painted the photo made it look like it had been painted and I was perpetuating an abhorrent practice. She demanded that I take the entire article down. I told her that I wasn’t going to do that and didn’t care how she felt about it. It was here that the idea of trying to win an emotional argument using logic really hit home with me. To this day I don’t know if painting dog is really something that people do and if so how it harms the dogs, but she felt she was within her rights to demand that I, a stranger, do something despite my inability (and frankly unwillingness) to do so.
     In another case, an emotionally distraught 15-year old lashed out at me because as she described herself “as an attempted victim of abuse” she took offense to something in an article that had NOTHING to do with abuse or violence of any kind. She too demanded that I retract the article and told her that I wouldn’t. She posted #stayawayfromthisman to all of her 15 Twitter followers, which, if they are anything like her, she did me a favor.
  3. As probing questions. If someone posts “liberals hate America” ask them why they feel that way. Don’t interrogate the poster, simply seek to understand the other person’s point of view and what led them to it. You may learn something and even more importantly the poster may learn something from you. Today, a person posted that the domestic terrorists were mostly left leaning. The person who started the post simply asked, “where is your data?” but again, logic versus emotion. Pretty soon people were posting facts about the shooters that suggested the opposite of the person’s contention. He started whining and bellyaching that people were persecuting him for his beliefs. No one was particularly mean to him, they just provided facts that opposed his world view. He WANTED to believe this and nothing would dissuade him.
  4. Before you post ask if your opinion is welcome, true, necessary, and kind. I have had people post their opinions on my posts and I want to scream, “who asked you?”, in so many cases it’s akin to walking up to a couple talking in grocery store and butting in with your comments. Much of what is posted isn’t any of your business. Also, for the love of all that is holy, check your facts, and not just the sites that support your worldview. Seek out the truth, the world has enough ignorance without you promulgating more of it. The truth can hurt; it can be mean-spirited and while true completely unkind and unhelpful.
  5. Practice a form of active listening, Before snapping back with the first thing that enters your head, make sure you understand exactly what the person is trying to communicate. Start by identifying the emotion, “I’m sensing that you are angry…” allows the person to move from the emotional state to a logical state. Paraphrase, say things like, “So what you are saying is…” continue doing that until you completely understand both what the person is feeling AND what the person wants from you (it could be sympathy, advise, or nothing at all), only when you truly understand the message should you respond.

Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?

Yes and no. Contrary to what many believe freedom of speech has limits and those limits apply. The classic example is one can’t run into a crowded movie theater and yell “fire”. One can’t incite violence or rioting. But the most common offense on Social Networks is that freedom of speech does not mean you can lie. Slander and Libel are still against the law and more and more people are finding themselves in court for the untrue things they have said online. Also, freedom of speech doesn’t ensure the freedom from consequences.

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

I would have moderators. Remember the old days when they had discussion threads? Moderators would enforce the rules of conduct. I would also make it more clear the rules of behavior. There is no right in the law that protects Facebook or Twitter from banning people for life if they violate the terms of service and I think both have been too lax in enforcing the limits of free speech online.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Say it forget it, write it regret it” Judge Marilyn Milian from The People’s Court. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite life lesson quote, but it is the one the most germane to this discussion. People need to be more careful about what they write. It’s very rare that you are going to say something stupid infront of millions of people (unless you are a public figure) but today something can go viral and your stupid, off-the-cuff statement can be seen by millions of people in a couple of minutes.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Judge Judy, but not as a litigant. Why? I like her approach of sizing up people, I actually quote her on lie detection in my latest book. Plus she likes tacos (which I could eat for every meal) and sushi so we better make it lunch. My schedule is pretty open.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Phil La Duke on Facebook, or I know my shoes Are Untied On Facebook, and @Philladuke on Twitter or through my blog www.philladuke.com and finally my Amazon author’s page amazon.com/author/philladuke

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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