Last week, I wrote about the concern that too much electronic communication can impair the development of normal social skills. When children primarily connect via social media, they have fewer opportunities to read non-verbal behaviors. Today, we’ll look at another danger of a too much electronic communication.
In my psychotherapy practice, I have seen many relationship difficulties created by social media miscommunication. Some have experienced unnecessary texting conflicts. Others have suffered the worsening of an existing conflict, or a relationship ending entirely.
Texting conversations lack the non-verbal cues that clarify communications. Even in face-to-face conversations, we tend to assume other’s thoughts or intentions. We all do mind-reading, where we assume how others feel or think. This tendency is compounded when our only information is the written word.
Facial expressions, tone of voice or vocal inflection can totally change the meaning or a message. For example, take the phrase, “I don’t understand what you mean.” These words could be a simple request for clarification or a confrontation. Non-verbal communications can clarify the difference. When texting, you are forced to imagine the tone or the facial expression of the person typing the words.
So, let’s imagine how this could go badly. You are texting a friend about an emotionally sensitive issue. They make a statement that is unclear to you. You want clarification, so you text, “I don’t understand what you mean.” The other person imagines that you are disapproving of, or challenging their opinion. They become defensive and respond, “I think I have a right to my opinion.” Now, you become defensive and either respond with a critical statement or don’t respond at all. The interchange ends with both people feeling irritated with the other. It didn’t have to end that way.
If the same conversation had occurred face-to-face, your softer facial expression and tone of voice would have likely clarified that you were simply uncertain about what they meant. They would have elaborated and the relationship may have been strengthened.
For better or worse, social media is here to stay. It has many benefits, but it also has dangers. While enjoying its benefits, we need to be aware of its deficits. Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy face-to-face communications. Your relationships will benefit from it.