Friday, January 16, 2009

I Don't Know You, But We Are Friends

Communicating with other people is not getting easier.

The addition of email, texting, IM, blogging, Twitter, social networking, social media, video, and all the rest of the stuff does not always make our lives easier. The reality is new communication tools have complicated the whole arena of interacting with others.

It used to be we would talk with someone face to face, on the telephone, or write them a letter. In any case there was higher levels of participation put into the communication (by both parties), and while misunderstandings still took place, everyone seemed to know where the other person was at the end of the correspondence. There were socially understood ground rules and the "non-verbal" communication was easier to interpret.

Today there are no rules. So many of the communication vehicles we use are new and people have a variety of expectations of how other should utilize them. If one party has a mis-interpretation, then it is often unknown and hard to fix.

I sometimes find it hard to always understand people in a digital world whom I have never met in person. Their sarcasm or direct approach is lost on me in print if they are a stranger.

Because I write a blog and participate in several social media communities, I have expanded my network to include many more people than I have had in the past. But the speed at which these communities bring people together can also minimize the long established mutual understanding that comes about in other venues.

When someone offends me it is easy to just "un-follow" them. In more traditional relationships with people I find I am less likely to be offended in the first place by sarcasm and much quicker to give them the benefit of the doubt. Real friends have built up credit.

I had an experience recently where I am fairly sure I mis-understood someone's email and thus my answer, which was fast, fair, utilitarian and too the point, was instead off target - and not at all what they were expecting from my response. The problem is that I don't know this person at all (Just someone I follow on Twitter, but have never met in person), and thus I am left unsure how to best approach a "do-over" and try my answer again. I have no clue as to their personality (since we have never met), thus I am not sure they would even welcome a clean slate approach. They may just assume me to be off base or simply a jerk.

It bums me out when I screw up. I hate to make communication mistakes (Heck, I teach business relationships and how to establish meaningful and mutually beneficial networks), but such hiccups are becoming more common for people with the new platforms over which we interact online. It is not just me, I hear this from others all the time.

This is one reason why I never connect in LinkedIn or on Facebook with people I do not know personally. In most cases I require that the person and I have had a cup of coffee, a meal, or a beer (or the digital equivalent) before I welcome them into my network. Doing this allow us to know each other at the level of personality.

But Twitter is a different animal, and as I get to "know" more and more people through this community, I think I need to develop a new way to correspond fellow "Tweets" who are actually strangers (yet we know each other, kind of). It is cool when paths cross, but it can be tricky.

The issue of how we interact with people whom we do not know on a personality level really does make communicating different. Social media is here to stay and growing at a fast pace. The world is changing and getting smaller, but people are still people. We need to invest in the personal side to create powerful connections.

This topic interests me. Has anyone read books, papers or studies on this topic? If yes, please share them with me.

Have A Great Day.



Anonymous said...

Hey Thom!
I've been talking about this alot with my kids lately. I'm amazed at the "sniping" that goes on in some of these social networks. I keep telling my kids, "No sniping allowed." After all, there's an old broadcasting saying that goes like this -- "You're only as good as the last thing people hear."

That being the case, think about what you "tweet" or post on any other social network. People will remember you for the last thing you say.

Great post!
Dr. Rus

Anonymous said...

This topic interests me too Thom. I'll let you know if I see some good studies about this in the future.

I'm made a few communication errors and had my "tone of voice" misunderstood in emails and it's not a good feeling. When this happens with people I know, I try to just pick up the phone and go "old school" on them. But when it happens with people you really don't know, it's a bit more challenging.

Anonymous said...

Even more confusing: I don't know you, but we are cousins ;)

I think what makes communicating on social media even more complicated is that it's international. There are a lot of intercultural differences people are not aware of.

For example, Germans tend to be more formal and getting right to the purpose of the conversation when they communicate with people they don't know. Americans usually start with a bit of smalltalk and are less formal.

So, that's easy to deal with if you know that. But if you don't, the American might think the German is rude and the German might think the American is crazy. ;)