New study finds tensions, arguments and hostility on social networks spill over into real life
April 10, 2013—Provo, UT—Social networks are becoming increasingly hostile, with 78 percent of users reporting rising incivility online and 2 in 5 blocking, unsubscribing or “unfriending” someone over an argument on social media, according to new research from the authors of the New York Times best-seller Crucial Conversations.
The online survey of 2,698 respondents suggests contentious conversations that begin online tend to spill over into real life. The study also indicates that people are generally less polite and tensions often go unresolved on social media. Specific findings include:
One of the survey respondents, Laura M., is still reeling from a family rift that began in cyberspace. It started innocently enough—her brother posted an embarrassing picture of her sister who asked him to remove it. A full-scale family brouhaha resulted when he not only refused to remove the photo, but instead blasted it out to his entire contact list. Ultimately, Laura’s brother unfriended all of his siblings and has denied in-person contact with them for the past two years and counting.
Another respondent, Laura J., has seen the ripple effects of social media at work. A frustrated co-worker posted a message about wanting to “handle co-workers like we did in the old days,” followed by some descriptive and violent detail. The atmosphere in the office has been tense ever since the post was made a year ago. Ultimately, employees unfriended their colleague and avoid her in the office “for fear she’ll come after [us].”
Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations, says these tensions arise and go unresolved in part because online conversations provide a unique set of challenges that are seldom taken into consideration when people begin typing their frustrations.
“Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren’t possible before. Sadly, they have also become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot,” says Grenny. “We struggle to speak candidly and respectfully in person, let alone through a forum that allows no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect others.”
And as the research indicates, younger people are four times more likely than Baby Boomers to prefer having these emotionally charged conversations over social media, so the need to learn to effectively communicate online is increasing.
“Social media platforms aren’t the problem, it’s how people are using them that is causing a degradation of dialogue that has potential to destroy our most meaningful personal relationships,” says Grenny.
Grenny offers tips for communicating both candidly and respectfully on social media:
About VitalSmarts: An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to multiple training offerings, including the award-winning Crucial Conversations®, Crucial Confrontations®, Influencer®, and Change Anything™ Training. Each course improves key organizational outcomes by focusing on high-leverage skills and behavior-change strategies. The Company also has four New York Times best-selling books: Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and Change Anything. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies, trained more than 900,000 people worldwide and been named by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing companies in America for eight consecutive years. www.vitalsmarts.com
Note to editor: Author Joseph Grenny is available for interviews. Copies of Crucial Conversations are available upon request.
About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 2,698 individuals in February of 2013. Margin of error is approximately 2 percent.
CONTACT: Laura Potter of VitalSmarts, L.C. +1-801-510-7590, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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