The Art of Ignoring: How to Escape What Doesn't Matter
How would you like to save time, prevent pointless arguments, and become a much better communicator? What if I tell you it is surprisingly easy to do this and that even better, you don't need to learn any comebacks, put-downs, or clever sayings? What if all you have to do to master this extraordinary new communications skill is – drumroll, please: learn how to ignore comments.
Of course, it may sound counter-intuitive or perhaps even a little submissive. You may be thinking, "Geez, so you're saying I should let people walk all over me? That's just not my style, man!"
I used to think like that, too, which was really tough for me when I got on the Internet. Believe it or not, I used to be a little introverted and disliked conflict. So, the vicious, rough and tumble style of commenting that's the rule of thumb online was not something I easily adapted to at first. I'd get upset when I was insulted. I was one of those people who'd go back and forth with someone 7-8 times in a thread. I'd spend a lot of time responding to dumb comments from anonymous people.
Then, I started blogging and as my traffic grew, more people started responding to what I wrote and emailing me. That was when it occurred to me that it made more sense to write a post for my entire audience to see than to respond in a comment section where only a sliver of the eyeballs reading my blog would catch it. As the numbers picked up, I formulated some general rules to determine when I'd respond to a comment or blog post about myself.
1) Is the criticism on point and worth responding to because it raised a good point?
2) Is the criticism from someone with a bigger audience than mine? Would I be "punching up"?
3) Could I make fun of the person criticizing me and entertain my audience?
If the criticism didn't meet one of those standards, I just let it go...and guess what? It worked out really well.
After all, what difference does it make if Kilgore734 thinks you're a show-off and hopes you're hit by a bus on the way home; what difference does it make in your life? If your father or your boss or your girlfriend thought those things about you, it would be a big deal. But, if some random tool whom you don't know, respect, or care about feels that way -- who cares?
I've found that ignoring comments can be just as useful personally as it is professionally.
For example, most of the people reading this article are probably on Facebook or Twitter. Do you feel compelled to respond to obnoxious people? What about the people who keep signing you up for groups you're not interested in? How about the ass that keeps posting the same tedious comments every time you write something? Know what? I just block those people and ten minutes later I've forgotten they ever existed.
Ever had a friend, relative, or significant other who knows all of your soft points? So, maybe things are getting a little tense and she makes a comment about your weight, your family, that time you forgot her birthday and then, inevitably, it starts a twenty minute fight? Here's a suggestion: the next time that happens, just ignore it and immediately move on to a completely unrelated conversation topic. Here's an example of how that can work.
Girlfriend: How can you say that? You sound just like your father!
Boyfriend: (Short pause) You know, you have pretty eyes.
Boyfriend: Pretty eyes. You have them. Your hair looks nice tonight, too.
Girlfriend: Really? (slightly sarcastic)
Boyfriend: Yeah, you're just gorgeous. Come on, let's go or we're going to be late for dinner.
Girlfriend: Okay, let's go.
On most topics, you'll find it makes a lot more sense to try to change a woman's mood than to try to change her mind. That's why this tactic tends to work particularly well with women. They get a little emotional, they say something they really don't mean, and it can either create a 20 minute long fight or you can just recognize what's happening and strategically ignore your way around it.
This can also work well with negative comments in group conversations, too. If you're strong, confident, and have a good self-image, a little friendly joshing back and forth shouldn't bother you. If it goes a little over the line, a slight pause and a slightly perturbed look, before you ignore the comment and move on, can be a much better way to handle things than going off on someone. That way, you've let the person know he went over the line without having to dress him down. That keeps people from feeling sympathy for them or getting upset with you just because they don't like conflict and it also allows you to get your message across without hard feelings.
Now, sometimes things can go a little beyond that in a group when you're dealing with someone who's malicious -- or just a jerk. In a situation like this, ignoring another person can be a powerful, dominant, and artful, but deliberately understated insult.
Person 1: So, you actually met Donald Trump?
Person 2: What was he like?
You: He was really a nice guy -- and I was surprised, not that he was nice, that he was really kind of quiet. You almost expect Trump to be yelling, but he’s actually really soft spoken and polite.
Person 3: Can you tell he's wearing a rug?
Person 4: Boooorrrrrinnnnnng! Nobody wants to hear about Donald Trump! Did you know I met Cher in Vegas five years ago?
You: (Look at the jerk. Chuckle softly to yourself, shake your head just a bit and continue.) It's funny you say that because I was just staring at his hair and he was like, "Do you want to touch it? You can."
Person 2: NO WAY! You DID NOT touch Donald Trump's hair!!
That shows a lot more tact and communications skill than saying, "C'mon, Cher? Really? You're so annoying!"
Without saying a single word, you're able to send the exact same message non-verbally, continue on with your conversation, and make yourself look better. Of course, there's a difference between doing this in a manly way and being a milquetoast who gets run over. This silent rebuke, done properly, can make the jerk look like a 7-year old at Thanksgiving dinner who's being ignored by the grown-ups because he wants to talk about how much fun it is to pet the dog.
Last but not least, there is a reason this column is called the "art of ignoring." Sometimes you do need to speak up and of, course, if used improperly, it can make you look and feel like a wimp. Still, learning what comments to ignore and when to let them slide is an incredibly useful advanced skill to have in your communications arsenal.