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88% believe people are ‘less polite’ on social media than they are in person


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

April 10, 2013 | 3 min read

Two in five have blocked, unsubscribed or “unfriended” someone over an argument on social media, new research from the authors of the New York Times best-seller Crucial Conversations has discovered.

The research of 2,698 respondents, unveiled today, revealed that 88 per cent believe people are less polite on social media than in person; while 19 per cent have decreased in-person contact with someone because of something they said online.

Of the respondents, over three quarters (81 per cent) said that difficult or emotionally charged conversations they have held over social media remain unresolved.

It was also found that young people are four times more likely than baby boomers to have ‘emotionally charged’ conversations over social media.

Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations, says the rising tension is in part because online conversations provide a unique set of challenges that are seldom taken into consideration when people begin typing their frustrations: “Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren’t possible before. 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.

“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.”

Five top tips from Grenny for communicating both candidly and respectfully on social media:

1. Check your motives. Social media hasn’t only changed the way we communicate, it has modified our motives. Ask yourself, “Is my goal to get lots of ‘likes’ (or even provoke controversy)?” or “Do I want healthy dialogue?”

2. Replace hot words. If 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. For example, replace “that is idiotic” with “I disagree for the following reasons…”

3. Pause to put emotions in check. Never post a comment when you’re feeling emotionally triggered. Never! If you wait four hours you’re likely to respond differently.

4. Agree before you disagree. It’s fine to disagree, but don’t point out your disagreement until you acknowledge areas where you agree. Often, arguers agree on 80 per cent of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20 per cent.

5. Trust your gut. When reading a response to your post and you feel the conversation is getting too emotional for an online exchange—you’re right! Stop. Take it offline. Or better yet, face-to-face.


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