Online relationships: empathy

While our online conversations can enrich our everyday life, these interactions can occasionally leave us or our friends hurt and disappointed. After all, who hasn’t seen a photo or a comment online that they didn’t like? A lack of empathy, or the inability to consider another person’s feelings, is commonly given reasons for why online relationships can easily sour.

In this article, we consider why it might be more challenging to empathize with people online than it is in person.

Non-Verbal Cues 

Conversations in person have many non-verbal cues, such as body language, vocal tone and facial expressions that provide context for what a person’s words actually mean. Since online conversations lack nonverbal cues, they require us to rely on our intuition or to imagine what the other person thinks. Trying to understand how another person feels or thinks is a first step towards acting empathetically.

Social Norms and Expectations

Most of us are familiar with rules of etiquette and social norms that govern behavior when communicating in person or over the phone. On the Internet, however, such rules and norms may not always be readily apparent. Some people may be unfamiliar with the nuances of this type of communication and act in ways that would be completely unthinkable offline.

Seek Understanding

If you’re unsure of the motives or context behind a Tweet, ask for clarification. Also, consider the Tweet as part of a broader conversation with which you should familiarize yourself to understand it as a whole. If you find yourself in a situation where you think you have been misunderstood, reevaluate your strategy so as to add context to your Tweets.

A Self-Assessment

If you encounter an upsetting Tweet, we recommend that you wait a while before responding in a way that you may later regret. Physically separating yourself from your computer or mobile device can be a helpful way to calm oneself. It can also help the mind gain perspective on the situation, and with it, allow for a more measured response.

Set the tone

Ultimately, you choose and control the tone and attitude of your own online activity. Your Tweets and other content exemplify how you interact with other users and how they expect you to respond.