Recently a friend of mine made a long-ish post on Facebook. It was an apology and a mea culpa. Although I had missed the earlier post she referred to, she stated that she was caught off-guard by other people’s reaction to it. She said that, in retrospect, she agreed with one friend of hers that had actually reached out to her about it: it was an offensive and prejudicial post. She apologized for the first post, a very real and human thing to do.
What she was hurt by was the fact that a number of her ‘friends’ had ‘un-friended’ her (in Facebook vernacular…) without asking her about the post, commenting on it, or even just responding in some way. She couldn’t understand why people who knew her would react in such a knee-jerk manner without asking her why she felt this way or further questioning the post.
I feel her experience points to a couple of challenges with building relationships online as well as some bad habits we’ve cultivated along the way.
First, about relationship building: I have written a lot about the value and challenge of building and maintaining relationships online. It is time-consuming, but creates a much more dynamic (some would say volatile…) place for us all. In the case of the business value, the companies that invest in cultivating actual relationships with their customers by building communities, encouraging advisory groups of influencers and key expert customers, and acting in such a way that takes into account the inherent fallibility of human beings while remaining professional are the companies that succeed in any real definition of the word.
In the case of my friend, the real Human Interaction was with the one friend that called her on her first post. He/she questioned her on it, recognizing it as uncharacteristic of her. Sadly, immediately after questioning her on it, he/she un-friended her. The others who un-friended her did so without going deeper to find out “what the deal was” with this post, which she felt was unusual. Either the relationship they had was so fragile that one contrarian post could destroy it, or perhaps working through the contradictions that are part of being human were too difficult to deal with and created too much cognitive dissonance for them, so rejecting someone out of hand was both easier and more emotionally satisfying, for the moment.
Which brings me to the second point…bad online habits we’ve fallen into.
So very much has been written about the online “echo chambers” and self-curation of content, news and opinion that most of us navigate whenever we open up a web browser. It is not wrong to take offense. There are plenty of things in this world that are offensive. However, confronting and working through the ugly things we encounter enables us to take part in making them better. Taking immediate this vs. that (or, especially in the US, red vs. blue) stances followed by high volume railing, trolling, name-calling and un-friending does nothing toward the overall betterment of our society or understanding the Human-To-Human (#H2H) communication that is possible and ultimately of highest value.
I recently read that more than 95% of communication between people is physical/non-verbal. Hence the challenge with Really Working with others in a mostly text communications environment like the Internet. It is certainly NOT the richest environment for meaningful communication, especially since we have cultivated a “Shoot-Aim-Ready” approach to a lot of our online interactions. There is a reason why, for instance, add-ins exist for our email software that will pop-up immediately after you click the Send button with a small window that says “Are you sure?”. We sometimes pride ourselves on speedy, pithy responses rather than on those that are measured and take into account that others may not be communicating clearly or in context. It’s true…..you may not know everything that the message entails or what the other person is trying to say.
So don’t flame them and un-friend them. Ask them what’s going on…you may be surprised at the answer and deepen your understanding of a fellow human being.