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When Social-Media, Cell Phones and Instant Messaging Hurts Your Relationships

If The New York Times can print seven errors in a leading story about legendary and fastidious journalist hero, Walter Cronkite, why do we expect perfect communication from each other? Face it, human beings are fallible. Communicating is a challenge. Hoping your message will be accurately received by others can be a lot like gambling. People often hear their own interpretations—especially if there is any emotional current in the conversation. Add depending on tech forms of communication (text messaging, emails, social-media updates, etc.) where the critical 85% of nonverbal communication is missing, and getting a clear message across is like playing Russian roulette. 

Even so, social-media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are growing in popularity more than ever. People of all demographics are signing up and trying out these new forms of human connection. Books and articles on how to use social-media to improve your business, your relationships, and manage your public relations are in new abundance. Even serious minded people, news outlets and more have online profiles somewhere. But what are the costs associated with these forms of online communication?

In the past, I have advocated that technology-enhanced communication can augment your existing relationships and help to establish new ones (see Sep 07 post). However, the key word is augment, not replace. Human beings need a sense of belonging (which is why joining a social-media outlet can feel good). But we crave intimacy and social-media creates a false sense of intimacy. Moreover, solely relying on non-intimate forms of communication (where again, 85% of required nonverbal communication is missing—yes, words only make up 15% of communication) will wreak havoc on your relationships.

How can it wreak havoc?

First, miscommunication is going to happen. You will infer a good tone if you’re feeling good that day. But what happens when you’ve had a bad day or you’re under the weather and/or you simply misinterpret a tone? That small misunderstanding will lead to increasing frustration and a regrettable reply. Not surprisingly, the situation will escalate and your relationship could be irreparably damaged.

Second, if there is a problem in the relationship and it’s unbalanced (more online communication than intimate in-person communication), deep-seated abandonment wounds will be enflamed. When this happens, prolonged time periods of not receiving a reply from someone will hurt to the core. It will feel more painful than normal. Anxiety will increase and that ancient hidden gene that secretly whispers “rejection means death” will grow louder. You then run the risk of experiencing the person as the enemy by the time they finally reply.

Third, you can become so overloaded and overwhelmed by the sheer number of online responses that you have been requested to make that some will simply fall through the cracks. You will feel like you have some sort of attention or memory problem. You will desire to be available to everyone, but simply cannot. As such, you might subconsciously rebel. Maybe you won’t be as responsive. Perhaps you’ll abandon one of the social-media outlets you’ve joined. Or you will decide to call a time out from your email and/or phone. The downside of this reaction is that people won’t be able to reach you in a timely manner and you’ll be branded as undependable (which then alerts the “rejection means death” gene and reignites the vicious cycle of making you logon and send your replies).

To break the cycle, try to make sure that you have a good and balanced ratio of healthy and intimate relationships in your life. 

à Make sure that more than half of the relationships in your life are in-person.

à If you utilize technology with closer relationships, make sure that 75% is strictly dedicated to in-person interactions.

If most of your relationships are online, step away from your computer right now and talk to someone in person. Maybe go for a 15-minute walk outside with someone and get your needed Vitamin D. Talk and spend time with people. Laugh. Cry. Make memories. As for the folks in your online network, urge them to do the same…and if you’ve missed some replies or been untimely in your communications, maybe you can emulate The New York Times and start your own “corrections” page.

 

Comments

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David LaPlante

Great advice Kimberly. I used to feel compelled to stay on top of all the communications and it did feel overwhelming. Probably a natural cycle for folks. Learning to turn the gadgets off is a good thing. Especially at home and when you're with friends.

Hawi Moore

You are a great inspiration Kimberly Thanks for sharing this

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