The advent of the social-media era brings with it many more opportunities for us to interact with each other. At first sight, therefore, social-media websites like Facebook and Twitter look like great relationship-building tools – but are they?
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget demonstrated that, when two young children talk, they do so in monologue. Each child speaks in response to the fact that the other child has spoken but ignores what the other child has actually said. As we develop, we learn how to enter into a proper dialogue with each other. In what follows, I will be describing how the social-media era is part of a technology-driven trend that favors monologue-type communication and creates significant pitfalls when it comes to building effective interdependent relationships. I'll then be showing you how to overcome these pitfalls and build effective interdependent relationships in the social-media era.
If you go back through history, you can see that the world of communication has gone through a period of immense change. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster. Before that, communication was limited and, for the most part, person-to-person. Dialogue ruled supreme as the communication tool of preference. It was about 100 years later, in the 1870s, that the telephone was invented. Over the ensuing years, people discovered they could communicate with each other much more easily using this new communication medium.
For all its undoubted ease of use, telephone conversations do however lack nonverbal cues that can be extremely important when dealing with others. These cues help each of us to adjust continuously what we say during a conversation in ways that take into account the other person's reactions to what we are saying. As a result, the introduction of the telephone eliminated an important element of dialogue.
Subsequently, the advent of the computer led to the Internet and the advent of email. Unfortunately, while this is an even more easy-to-use method of communication in which both parties are relieved of the task of thinking on their feet, it completely eliminates all spontaneous cues from the other person. Because of this ease of use, very soon after its introduction, emailing took over from telephoning as the preferred method of communication. As people favored ease of communication over the rigors of effective dialogue, relationship building suffered. If you look at the content of emails as compared with telephone conversations or one-on-one interactions, you see a much greater focus on task first, relationship second.
Time moved on, and nowadays, many people don't answer their mobile phones but rely on voice-mail communication. Throughout all of these changes, people have favored ease of communication over effectiveness of communication and have become less and less motivated to put real effort into relationship building. The world became task focused and people had less time for the niceties of real-life interaction. Not surprisingly, manners, deference toward others, and the capacity to express oneself effectively have all became casualties in the process.
Nowadays we have Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, to mention but a few of the ever-increasing social-media resources now available to us all. These continue to encourage us to place less and less emphasis on interactive dialogue as the basis of interpersonal communication. While we all feel we are communicating effectively when we use these tools, true dialogue has given way to a shallow form of monologue. This adversely impacts each of us negatively when it comes to relationships. There is a clear challenge that each of us needs to address if we are to avoid the pitfalls created by the social-media era.
What to do?
If you approach relationship building in the right way, it can become a natural part of your daily activity and very easy to do. There are a small number of simple things to remember:
- Whenever you interact with anyone else, always put the relationship first and the task second. You can achieve this by asking yourself the following questions before you enter into a discussion:
- Is what I'm about to say or do something likely to harm my relationship with this person?
- Is there another way I could go about things to use this as an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with this person?
Now, frequently, when I suggest this to people, they react by saying that while this approach looks good in theory, in practice it would never work for them because they are far too busy to put it into practice. This is a normal first reaction, but, as I mentioned, it can become a natural part of your daily activity and very easy to do.
How do I know?
I know because early on in my life I was very much a “task first, relationship second” kind of person. As a result, I failed to build effective interdependent relationships and my early career suffered accordingly. Then, much against my “better” judgment, I tried “relationship first, task second.” Here’s what I discovered:
- As I tried the approach, I became more adept at relationship building and my circle of meaningful relationships began to expand.
- As I became more adept, I became more motivated to pursue the approach. Why? Because we all like doing things we can do well. This motivational underpinning applies to all of life's endeavors, and it turned me into a very effective relationship builder.
- Along the way, my entire approach to life changed from one that was self-centered to one that was not only more concerned about other people but also sufficiently concerned to help others whenever feasible.
How did that happen? Because it turns out that when you are motivated to help others, they become more motivated to help you in return.