Ask Lillith: Putting a Peer “On Blast”

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LillithGreyWebLillith Grey has been lighting up the stage for over five years as a burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology. She has worked as a psychotherapist, educator, and social justice advocate, and currently teaches at a local university while working on her research. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Lillith is also active in the Leather community, serving on the NLA-International Writing Awards committee and as a co-chair for the Women’s International LeatherFest. Visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.

Have a question for our new advice columnist?  Please title your email “Lillith- _subject___” and send to editor [at]pincurlmag [dot]com

Dear Lillith-

Burlesque is a small world and I just got burned badly by someone in the industry.  When is it appropriate to “put someone on blast” on Facebook and warn others about their horrible business practices?

-Burned in Dallas

Dear Burned

This seems to be happening quite a bit lately! I’ve seen a lot of these “blast” posts, not only for bad business practices but also in response to interpersonal conflict. Since I don’t have a lot of info from you about your current experience, my answers will probably be a bit broader than necessary for your specific situation, but hopefully I can shed some light on some things to think about as you work through this.

My first thought is to look at the reason you want to make a post about this. This can be very difficult and requires you to take a hard look at what’s going on emotionally. You are probably very angry right now, and you may have other feelings like betrayal, hurt, frustration, worry, fear, and any combination of these and a million others. Feelings are complex and hard to understand, but it’s very important to understand how feelings can impact our actions.

You may feel that your intention is truly to warn other people to prevent them from getting hurt; I’ll talk later about how to do that fairly and conscientiously. However, if you are in a state of emotional upheaval, your underlying intent may be to lash out and get back at the person that hurt you. This is a perfectly natural, reasonable, and acceptable response to being hurt, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on those feelings. Find other, healthier ways to vent your anger and frustration. Have a bitch session with a friend. Write an angry letter. Whatever you need to do, do it, but keep it private. Your emotional experience is not meant for public consumption.

Sometimes when I have a bad experience or am soured by something someone did or said, I have the urge to jot off a quick post about it. Almost every time I’ve done it, I have ended up regretting it. Now I have established a rule for myself: If I have something strong to say about someone, I write it out but I wait four days to post it. If after that time I still feel that strongly about posting it, I will reconsider it. Almost always, though, by the time those four days are up I’ve already found a way to handle the emotional experience and that post just doesn’t seem that important. Find a strategy for handling emotional turmoil BEFORE you end up in turmoil!

You should also think carefully about the damage that can be done by an emotion-driven post. First, and most obviously, you are doing damage to the person you are talking about, which may actually be your intent. Whether or not you are willing to be intentionally hurtful to another person is up to you, so I won’t speak much to that. But that’s not the only person you’re harming. You’re harming your own reputation too, and that’s worth considering as well. When you make emotional posts, you are telling everyone on your friends list that you don’t handle your emotional experience well and that they may fall victim to it as well. Now, an angry post every now and then is fine, especially when it doesn’t contain specific details, but if you make it a habit to post rants on your page, people will be less likely to trust you. I once knew someone who would frequently make those kinds of posts about people and then end up resolving the conflict with them. She clearly thought that her own resolution meant everything was fine, but those of us who witnessed it repeatedly learned two things: one, that if we were involved with her we might end up in a post like that, and two, that we didn’t need to take seriously the claims that she made because they probably would get resolved anyway. I know many people who blocked her posts because they were tired of the drama.

Emotion-driven posts also harm the community as a whole. In many ways, we function like a small town – everyone knows everyone, we are all working together on a regular basis, and we have to deal with each other whether we like it or not. All of us have a responsibility to make sure that we nurture this as a community, which means not pissing in the collective swimming pool even when we really, really need to go!  When we bring drama into the public eye, we hurt our community internally and we hurt the way outsiders see us well.

So let’s say that you’ve thought all this through and this isn’t just a random rant or a pissed-off moment, and you truly believe that the person that burned you has the potential to be harmful to others. Then what? How do you let people know they need to protect themselves while still acting in an ethical and respectful way?

First, it’s important to understand that effective communication requires way more than just words; we gather a great deal of information from subtle cues, both verbal and non-verbal. When someone posts something online, the content is stripped of all these cues, including vocal tone, inflection, facial expression, and so on. This leaves nothing but bare-bones words, leaving the reader to interpret it in her or his own way. You may not realize it, because when you read it back to yourself you can hear your own voice in your head. People who know you well can probably also hear your voice and intent as well, but people who aren’t as close to you have no choice but to apply their own voice to it.

Everybody has a “mental model,” which is essentially the lens that we see things through. This is kind of a hard concept to pin down because the very nature of the mental model is vague and imprecise, and it changes all the time.  Your mental model is based on your life experiences, your beliefs, your opinions, your preferences, and basically who you are as a person. Since no one else has the same set of experiences and beliefs as you, no one has the same mental model as you. This is why two people can be impacted by the same exact situation and come away with two distinctly different experiences.When you engage in dialogue with someone, your mental model is the filter through which you understand things. Effective communication happens when you can help others understand your model and simultaneously understand theirs.

When you post something online, you are taking out all of that critical, nuanced information that goes along with it, and you don’t have any idea how people interpret it. On the other hand, when you have a verbal conversation with someone, you are providing much more valuable information that aids in their understanding of what you’re trying to tell them. Perhaps most importantly, having a conversation allows them the chance to ask questions, get clarification, and have the back and forth exchange that helps people truly understand each other.

A couple of years ago I was involved in a local show with a producer I hadn’t worked with before. One day I got a phone call from another community performer who was not involved in the show. I did not know her well, but had worked with her before and I always found her to be highly professional, so when she called me I took it seriously. She explained to me that she had worked with that producer before and had been taken advantage of pretty seriously. She also told me she knew of others who had similar experiences who refused to work with him too. She was cautious with the way she phrased things, and although it was clear she was angry, it was also evident that she was not speaking from an emotional standpoint. I went ahead with the show but was very careful, and because of her warning I was able to prevent the same thing from happening to me. In retrospect, I feel sure that without her warning I would have been burned too.

You may be saying to yourself “I want to warn everyone! There’s no way I can call everyone individually!” That’s true, you can’t call everyone – but everyone doesn’t need to be warned. I would venture to say that there are many more people on your Facebook than just other performers. They don’t need to be warned. And even the people who are performers may not find themselves crossing paths with this person. Be selective about who you talk to – choose who really needs to know. That’s the best way to minimize potential damage to everyone involved.

So here’s a quick recap:

Don’t let emotions dictate your response
Don’t react quickly – give yourself enough time to process
Communicate verbally rather than through writing
Be selective about what you say and who you say it to
Consider the impact on everyone involved, including yourself and the community as a whole

I hope that some of these ideas are helpful to you, and I am deeply sorry that you’ve been hurt. Be sure to take care of yourself and get support and help from the people who love you.

Warmly,

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