America and the Soviet Union were mortal enemies when I was a kid. Ronald Reagan was a good guy leading a fight against the entrenched powers of communism and Orwellianism. Mikhail Gorbachev was a monster and wanted us to die in a nuclear holocaust and stand in a long line for bread in milk. And the Pope just wanted to protect children.

Boy, all of that was wrong.

It was a big deal when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had a summit back in 1985. They met in Geneva and started a dialogue on shared interests and concerns: nuclear arms and money. From there, we gave them greater access to blue jeans, Coca-Cola, and a future president. 

Summits are effective. Two people with different points of view come together face-to-face to hash things out. There are rules, topics are off the table, and a mutual commitment to walk out of that room with accomplishments. It’s old school, but it works. HR leaders love a good summit, too. If you can get it catered, a summit is the best excuse to order from the good bagel place down the block.

But people have lost their goddamn minds and abandoned diplomacy for confrontation on mobile devices. We’ve ignored years of dedicated research on communication, and we jump at the chance to tell instead of show. We shout through the text on our screens and hope that the font sizes and the big words make it seem like we’re whispering.

I don’t know about you, but the lack of diplomacy is making my online experience confusing. Our dysfunctional communication patterns muddy the waters, and I always wonder what people are saying. Blog post on work-life balance: Is it about balance or is someone mad at her partner? Tweet about sports: Are you angry with your dad? Facebook link to a marketing article: Do you recommend this article or are you mad at me?

Let me suggest that you need to make like Mikhail and hold a summit — on the phone, at the coffee shop, via Skype — if you’re about to go online and write something you wouldn’t say out loud to someone’s face. Plan a summit if there’s a person in your life who needs to be told and you’re the one to do it. Extend an olive branch, accept an older olive branch, and have a damn summit. 

I’m sick trying to parcel out the subtext of your psychology in tweets and LinkedIn updates when I open my laptop. It feels like nothing is sacred, anymore, except videos of Fiona and photos of Lil Bub. If you ruin that for me, I’ll hunt you down. That’s a summit you don’t want.


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