D Murali

Strengthening human relations in an online world

D. Murali | Updated on November 20, 2011


The internet explosion has changed the protocol for creating and maintaining relationships.

To be remembered by your customers, should you continually outdo yourself, or parade as a spectacle, with messages vying for attention? No, the secret is to add value, and to do so with regularity, instructs ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age' from Dale Carnegie & Associates.

The book cites an apt quote of Tony Robbins, a peak performance coach, about how in the digital age, winning friends has regrettably come to be about marketing - about being significant. There are two ways to be significant, do something really well or do something really poorly, explains Robbins.

Ruing that infamy is, unfortunately, the easiest way to get known today, he reminds that while technology gives us the incredible power to connect with, learn from, and add value to any person on the planet 24/7, many opt to get significance instantly by being foolish. The real key to winning friends and influencing people today, advises Robbins, is to move relationships from ‘manipulative' to ‘meaningful,' by constantly adding meaning and value.

As the book elaborates, “This is the scale on which every one of your interactions is judged – every tweet, post, email, call, and tangible encounter. To which side does your scale tip in each encounter – toward more value or less value? To which side does your scale tip over time?”

Cautioning that the fallout of interpersonal failures can be swifter and more merciless than it has been ever before, the book underlines that it is wisest to do everything within your power – through every medium and every message – to leave others a little better.

Digitally veiled

One of the commandments in the book is to avoid arguments, because arguing usually ends up with each person more firmly convinced of his or her rightness. The authors of the book fret that so much of our time online is spent arguing or feeding arguments. “Look no further than comments at the bottom of popular blogs and news sites,” the authors point out. “It is nearly always a string of he said/ she said or attempts at one-upmanships.”

Referring also to the recent and ongoing corporate and political banter, which seems to primarily involve proving points and stating cases instead of finding common ground on which to build something of mutual value, the authors lament that few of these arguments change people's minds.

Why so? Because the arguments are digitally veiled and lack the clear-cut consequences of tangible confrontations, both parties can get away with devolving into snarky personal attacks and passive ambiguity – the least effective tools of human relations – the authors reason.

An example they mention is of how the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward took a hard line of personal self-exoneration and arrogant apathy in reaction to the tragic explosion and subsequent oil spill that not only cost human lives but also ravaged the ecosystem. “Few could trust the man. He seemed to care about two things and two things only: himself and his empire. Under his argumentative approach, BP quickly went from suspect to reject, regardless of what story the facts would turn out to tell…”

Subtle difference

Another diktat in the book is to never say, ‘You're wrong,' because nuance, or subtle difference, is a critical concept to remember in the midst of disagreement. The authors note that, in most disputes, our differences with others are far subtler than we allow ourselves to see. “We so easily treat dissonance like a chasm that cannot be crossed – the only resolution being one party taking a dive (or being shoved) off the cliff, so that only one party remains. It's far from the truth.”

Alerting that it is easy to allow a certain tone to creep into our online communication – a tone that tells another person that we believe he or she is wrong – the authors observe that sometimes we do not even realise the tone is there until we later read what we have written. “We believe we are being diplomatic, but each word, presented in absence of expression or a soft tone of voice, is usually a condemnation. This is one of the reasons settling disputes is best accomplished in person.” Therefore, the authors call for creating a more respectful, conciliatory environment for conversation, and then offering your point with an open mind, instead of presenting a truncated argument through email, IM, or Twitter.

Stay connected

Towards conclusion is a chapter titled, ‘Stay connected on common ground,' which avers that it is simple today to find a connection with another. For example, many companies post their vision, values and goals, in their websites. “And many go much further, posting employee bios, press releases, and updated information on their blogs.”

An interesting anecdote is about Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship sports league, who accidentally tweeted his direct phone number to more than one million fans, who re-tweeted it to untold numbers of people. And when the fans began calling within minutes, did Dana call the phone company and have his number changed immediately? No. “For more than an hour and a half, he took the calls that came in and talked to the fans. They loved it.” The book chronicles that from that fortunate mistake, Dana too learned a lot. So much so that he has a dedicated line for taking calls from fans. “It's posted on all of his social media outlets. When he has time, he lets them know he's ready to talk, and the phone starts ringing.”

Energetic, chaotic

One other example in the book is about Richard Branson, who is of the view that how companies adapt to ‘this energetic and sometimes chaotic world' will define their future success. He declares that the website, Facebook page, blog and Twitter feed are no longer add-ons to a business' communication budget; but that they should be central to its marketing strategy, and used in coordination with other marketing efforts. “The key, says Branson, is not defaulting your digital media into mere transactional mode; instead, open them wide for ongoing communication as well.”

The authors draw attention to the fact that – along with the changes to the traditional roles of advertising, marketing, and customer relations – the role of today's leader has also changed in digital time and space, with open access and frequent communication.

“The perfunctory principles of corporate activity have largely broken down and been replaced by the basic principles of human relations. If you don't know how to win friends and influence people in a genuine and positive manner today, not only will you have trouble keeping pace in a marketplace ruled by the consumer, you will also have trouble keeping your people employed.”

Vital read that offers a reassuring perspective to technology in the world of human relations, rather than the opposite.


“We now have a digital boss called…”

“Siri, who brings the smile back to your faces?”

“No, ‘Nari,' which is Tamil for fox!”


Published on November 20, 2011

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