As more of our lives migrate to the internet, we find ourselves interacting with some people more online than in person. Other relationships are carried out exclusively online. While our online conversations can enrich our everyday life, sometimes these interactions leave our acquaintances and ourselves hurt and disappointed.
One reason that many people bring up for why things go sour so quickly in our online dialogue is lack of empathy, or understanding another’s feelings. In this article we review why it might be harder to be empathetic online than in person or on the phone.
In person or on the phone, there are rules of etiquette and social norms that create expectations for how one acts in different situations. This is true, whether we’re attending a party or meeting or taking a quick phone call. Though many people are new to online communication, social norms and expectations are developing in different communities.
Can you think of any rules of etiquette that are developing in your online communities? Are you working to create a habit of respectful conversation in your online community?
The tone of the events we attend are defined by societal norms, and also by the attitudes and actions of the people attending. While rules and norms are developing online, we can choose the tone and attitude of our own online activity, just as we would at a party or meeting. Our Tweets and posts set expectations for how people interact with us and how they expect us to respond.
Are you aware of the tone you are setting for your online conversations? Does a review of your timeline or homepage suggest the kind of conversation you want to take part in?
Conversations in person and on the phone provide us with more than online conversation because they are peppered with non-verbal cues such as body language, vocal tone and facial expressions that provide us with context for what a person’s words really mean. Without these cues many of us can feel confused. However, others find that during online conversation, imagining what the other person is feeling or how they are reacting helps them understand the other point of view better and act with more empathy. Emoticons and adjectives describing feelings that go along with the text are also helpful in communicating the whole message to someone we’re speaking with online.
How do you communicate your feelings online? Do you imagine how others might react to your Tweets?
In person, the feedback loop in conversation is detailed and quick. People react to what we say with their body language, tone of voice and words right in the moment. This gives us an immediate opportunity to adjust our words or tone if we’ve sent the wrong message, often times without thinking too much about it. Online, we should keep an eye out for cues of confusion or misunderstanding in our conversations and clarify when we have the opportunity.
Have you taken an opportunity to correct confusion or apologize during an online conversation?
Some online communication is instant, providing a real time conversation and real time opportunity to respond to our conversation partners’ confusion or offenses. Other times, our online conversations will have gaps while people step away from their computer or set down their smartphone. When there is a delay between reactions and responses in our conversation, we may have to backtrack to figure out what was misinterpreted. However, we shouldn’t let that stop us from clarifying a view or asking the other person to share their opinion, as we would in person or while speaking on the phone.
How do you feel when others take time to loop back and patch up a conversation that fell apart because of a misunderstanding?