Site   Web

April 11, 2013

Social Networks a Hotbed of Hostility

Arguments on Social Media Sites Spilling Over Into Real Life

Social networks have become a breeding ground for cattiness, rudeness, insults and mean-spirited jokes, a new survey has found.

In fact, the conflicts and resentments on social networks all too frequently spill over into real life.

Of the 2,698 people poled by VitalSmarts, an American corporate training company, 78 percent reported rising incivility online, 76 percent have witnessed an argument over social media and 88 percent believe people are less polite on social media than in person.

Eighty-one percent of the respondents admitted “difficult” or “emotionally-charged” conversations online remain unresolved while 19 percent have decreased in-person contact with a social media friend or follower because of something that person said online.

Co-author of the study, Joseph Grenny, says people do not always consider the consequences of their online actions because they allow their frustrations to override common sense and good manners.

“Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren’t possible before,” says Grenny, the co-author of New York Times best-seller Crucial Conversations.

“Sadly, they have also become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot. We struggle to speak candidly and respectfully in person, let alone through a forum that allows no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect others.”

A VitalSmarts press release highlighted stories from respondents who have been involved in online altercations. Below are two excerpts from the release:

• Laura M., is reeling from a family rift that began in cyberspace. It started innocently enough—her brother posted an embarrassing picture of her sister who asked him to remove it. A full-scale family brouhaha resulted when he not only refused to remove the photo, but instead blasted it out to his entire contact list. Ultimately, Laura’s brother unfriended all of his siblings and has denied in-person contact with them for the past two years and counting.

• Laura J., has seen the ripple effects of social media at work. A frustrated co-worker posted a message about wanting to “handle co-workers like we did in the old days,” followed by some descriptive and violent detail. The atmosphere in the office has been tense ever since the post was made a year ago. Ultimately, employees unfriended their colleague and avoid her in the office “for fear she’ll come after [us].”

It is such situations that prove there is a growing need for people to learn to communicate effectively online, Grenny says, adding that younger social media users are four times more likely than Baby Boomers to have “emotionally-charged” online conversations.

“Social media platforms aren’t the problem, it’s how people are using them that is causing a degradation of dialogue that has potential to destroy our most meaningful personal relationships,” he says.

Grenny offers the following tips for candid but civil communication on social media:

• Check your motives — Social media has changed both modern communication and the motives of those who use it. Ask yourself, “Is my goal to get lots of ‘likes’ (or even provoke controversy)?” or “Do I want healthy dialogue?”

• Replace “hot” wordsIf your goal is to make a point rather than score a point, replace ‘hot’ words that provoke offense with words that help others understand your position,” he says. For example, instead of saying “that is idiotic” consider typing “I disagree with you because…”

• Pause to put emotions in check — Never post a comment when you are upset. Walk away from the computer or put your device away. Cool off for a few hours before answering — you’re likely to respond differently.

• Agree before you disagree — It’s OK to disagree, but first acknowledge the areas where you agree before explaining the areas on which you differ. Arguers often “agree on 80 percent of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20 percent,” he says.

• Trust your gut — If you feel a post or a conversation is getting too emotional for an online exchange end it quickly. Take it offline, preferably face-to-face.