Communication with each other, now we’re in the digital age, is more far reaching than at any other point in human history. Most of our conversations aren’t private, yet sometimes we mistakenly start thinking they are.
The ’70’s and ’80’s were great decades for kids. You were free to roam the streets, having wonderful adventures with your friends. Back then, we spent a lot of time in and out of each other’s homes and family lives. Your best friend was like the sister you never had, or how you wished yours was.
Social media has a similar feel; it’s a marvellous playground where we live, work and play with our friends, family and colleagues. Some of the behaviour that’s emerging in the social space reminds me of a not quite so pleasant childhood memory.
Poorly considered conversations are harmful
My best friend and I spent most of our time at my house. My mum was fun; she was a teller of tales, a film buff, a crossword addict and a party girl. If anything social was going on, you’d find my mum there, in the thick of it, enjoying herself.
It was unusual to stay at my friend’s house but I always loved it when we did. because she had a more traditional family life than I did. What a blissful time, which came to a shattering end after a misplaced word or two.
During the hot summer of ’81, we spent most of the time camping out at my house. It was an idyllic summer; we had no cares in the world. Then one day, we decided to spend the night at my best friend’s house.
The next morning, her parents crept into the room and gently woke her up, thinking I was still asleep. They told her that they’d prefer to see her more, that they missed her and they thought she ought to stop staying over at my house as much.
Now these feelings are fine and natural for parents to have, but was it the time and place to have the conversation, in earshot of an introverted, shy, 10 year old child?
I understand how they felt that way, it was only natural, but at the time, I was ten years old and very shy. Hearing them say that, even if it was unintentional, tore me to pieces.
I think it was the wrong thing to do. The result was it alienated me. I felt so uncomfortable, I never visited her house or parents again. In the end it killed off my relationship with her too.
We never talked about it. In fact, I’m sure that none of them even know I overheard the conversation. It’s probably not an important enough event in their lives for them to recall it. But the problem is that I do, and it’s sullied the memories I have of them.
Walking through life mindfully
This memory surfaced the other day on a Google Hangout hosted by +Ray Hiltz, with a fabulous group of my marketing peers. We were discussing the increase of odd behaviour in the social streams; people seem to be forgetting that they’re in a public space, and they aren’t thinking before they speak.
Some of the worst offenders are prominent social media and marketing professionals; the ones who set the tone for how we run our social media accounts. I guess it’s a good reminder not to follow what others do blindly.
Social media is not a private conversation; it’s laid open for all the world to see and draw their own conclusions from. In most cases, people behaving this way are making fools of themselves, tarnishing their reputations and jeopardising their earning potential.
Small business owners, brands and private individuals need be mindful about what they say. There’s a real danger that you could evoke the wrong emotions in your community, or alienate people in the way my friend’s parents did with me.
Once you’ve said or done something, it’s out there and there’s no going back. And that’s amplified in the digital world, your words, videos and images ripple out from you in ever increasing circles.
Connecting with the right mindset
Authenticity and being able to voice our own opinions is important. I’m not suggesting we should put on some kind of mask. If we take this route the danger then becomes the fracture between the image we’re busily projecting and the experience people receive when connecting with us on a less superficial level.
That can lead to the exact same issues so, what’s needed is a shift in mindset.
We need to learn to communicate with each other, from a place of honesty that’s tempered with thoughtfulness.
I’ve been working to achieve that goal for a few years, here are some of the things I try to have in my conscious mind throughout my life:
- There’s a time and place for everything. If you want to share some advice or thoughts with someone but that advice might compromise their reputation or embarrass them — don’t do it in public. You won’t gain anything by doing so. Contact them in private.
- Be aware that you’re speaking to another human being. They have feelings just like you do.
- Always pause and think before you speak.
- You’re not just speaking to one person on social media. You have an audience, and what you say affects them too.
- Treat others as you want to be treated. A good friend respects your feelings but will always tell you the truth.
- Don’t sit on the fence on topics. Express your opinions. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Communication is a bumpy ride
There are bumps along the way, things will pop up and you’ll have to accept them, or you’ll be in for some turbulence. The two that spring to mind are:
- We don’t agree with each other on everything and we don’t have to. In fact, that would be rather boring. Debates can and should be handled in a mature way. Unless you’re being trolled. Don’t feed them, just walk away.
- Sometimes we offend people by accident. If that happens be sincere, acknowledge the other person’s pain, listen to them, try to understand their point of view, apologise and (maybe) succinctly explain any miscommunication and then move on. Don’t pick it apart or debate the issue endlessly.
Those are my thoughts on the topic, based on my life experiences to date. Do you think this is the path we all need to start travelling on or am I misguided? I’d love to hear what you think on this topic too, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.