By Rebecca Holczer, MA
As a member of many Facebook groups (perhaps too many?) I see almost every day how group conversations over social media can easily get out of hand. All group discussions start with an original post, however, it seems more common than not for discussions to go in all sorts of directions that are rarely relevant to the initial post. There are many reasons for this phenomenon, but the most compelling is that social media posting tends to be so fast and impulsive, that it is often more emotional than rational. In other words: Social media communications tend to be less about what we truly want to say, and more about what we want to convey in the moment. The problem with this (aside from miscommunications) is that the more people just give into our emotions, the more they tend to be prone to anxiety. Here are six tips we can use to manage anxiety when participating in group discussions in the era of social media:
- Consider not responding at all: Yes, this is an option as well that we sometimes forget is available! But it’s often the best one. Of course, it’s fine to contribute to a group discussion if you want to share or to make an original post and initiate a discussion. But you don’t need to contribute or respond to everything.
- Mindfully pay attention to your feelings: Before you post, think about how you are feeling and try to name that emotion. Some posts will make you feel angry, some may elicit feelings of sadness, and others will bring on anxiety. Being aware of your emotions and mindfully paying attention to them is a key strategy to making sure your feelings don’t get out of hand or take over. Consider it a challenge: Can you notice and name your gut reaction without giving in right away.
- Adopt perspective-taking: Try to put yourself in the shoes of others who are posting messages for a few moments. Think about what their intentions were when they wrote their comments. Are you sure you’re understanding what they are trying to convey? Also, is their message written clearly (often it is not!) and do you need to clarify what they meant before responding?
- Re-read before you reply: Relatedly, if you would like to make respond to a comment, take the time to read the comment you are responding to a second time. Group discussions can proceed at a rapid pace, and often people make errors when reading through comments. Don’t you just hate it when you post a response to a participant, only to realize seconds later that you misread their comments?
- Role play in your mind: Before firing off a post, take 20 seconds to imagine how an in-person conversation might go with others in the group. What would you say if you were facing the group members in person? Research suggests that people feel much more free to express themselves in extreme ways when they are removed from a situation, or anonymous. But if you would not say something to someone’s face, do you really want to post it on the Internet?
- Consider a direct message: When joining into an online conversation, we sometimes neglect the possibility of writing individual direct messages, instead of contributing to a group chat. Even if you ultimately do wish to post en masse, this alternative can be a good starting point to clarify ideas (yours and others) and help create more intentional and meaningful exchanges with others.
Social media has the potential to achieve what previous generations were unable to accomplish—we can now connect to others around the world with the mere touch of our fingertips. For that very reason, let’s make sure we actually connect with others without miscommunicating or getting stymied by our emotions in the process.