Are you socially intelligent about social media?

With my executive coaching clients I often develop aspects of their Emotional Intelligence (which some call social intelligence) to help improve their communication and relationship skills: self-awareness, so that when situations arise you are aware of your own feeling and emotions; self management, which allows you to pause in your reaction, assess the situation, consider your desired outcome and choose an appropriate response; social awareness, to detect and understand the reaction that your communication or actions have on other people; and social skills to allow you to adjust your behaviour given the understanding of other people’s feelings and emotions, again to achieve your desired outcome.  This is typically for off-line, real-world situations; however what about on-line encounters.

Are you socially intelligent about social media?At a high level the skills required for good communication and relationships are the same in the on-line world as in the off-line world.  Building trust and relationships on-line still requires self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and socials skills; however the way they are applied is different.  I have occasionally seen some heated debates on-line in which it’s clear that people are over-reacting and not fully understanding each other’s point of view, when if they had been face-to-face there wouldn’t necessarily have been an issue.

When you read something on-line that someone else has written, your emotional reaction might be very similar to if you’d heard him in person and indeed your actions regarding how you react might be similar as well.  Your might quickly type a reply saying what you might have said to his face; however I’d suggest taking another tack.  Take a pause in the same way that it’s good to take a brief pause in off-line situations.

First of all consider if what you’re reacting to is the meaning he intended to convey.  On-line all you have is the text you’re reading. You miss the body language, intonation and facial expressions that you’d have in an off-line encounter.  If unsure of his intention consider asking for clarification.

When you’ve typed what you’re going to say, before pressing that Share button, pause for a brief moment.  Reread what you’ve written: apart from a chance to check your grammar and spelling, does it convey what you actually meant to say?  If not, then edit it.  Once it does say what you mean, consider your audience.

This is an important step and is something very different to an off-line encounter.  Off-line, unless you’re being recorded or videoed, whatever you say will only be heard by the person you’re talking to or at most the people in the room.  On-line, what you say can be potentially ‘heard’ by anyone.  Even if you limit who the message is intended for, remember that someone could easily copy and paste what you’ve said and send it on to the whole world.  Now I’m not suggesting you should be paranoid: most of my posts on-line are Public, so anyone can see them; however it’s worth being aware of it.

So before pressing that Share button consider your potential audience, as opposed to your intended audience.  Firstly what meaning will they take from your message?  What will your friends think of what you’ve written? What about your colleagues, your team, your boss, your family, your parents, your clients, your prospects?  Again I’m not saying to be paranoid about posting, but regardless of who sees your post or comment, you need to be happy with what you think their understanding might be.  And when considering this remember the text is all they see; they don’t see your body language, your intonation, your facial expressions etc.  Whatever you want to convey, the entirety of your meaning, has to be included in the text you type or you risk being misunderstood.

Once you’re happy the meaning within your message is clear, consider what the reaction of the recipient will be.  Unlike in the off-line world you won’t be there to see and manage the reaction, so you have to second-guess what it might be, based on your previous experience of communicating with that person.  Is the reaction you think your message will result in, one you want to illicit?  If not consider rewording your response.  And again you should also briefly consider how others who see the message will react.  Are you portraying yourself in a way you want to be perceived?  Remember people who know you well will react very differently to those who don’t know you at all or only know you a little.

The intention here is not to stifle what you are saying, but to ensure that what you say is what you mean. However, if at the end of this analysis you can’t come up with a response that isn’t going to be misinterpreted by some people and that is something you wish to avoid, then perhaps your response should be to take the conversation off-line.  Then the more normal rules of engagement apply, so you can manage expectations and reactions in real time, without the whole world potentially listening in.

Now all of that analysis outlined above might seem rather a lot to do in what I described as a ‘pause’; however in practise it can be done in a split second.  At the very least consider how the intended recipient will react and how someone else who you admire would react if they chanced to see what you had written.

And above all, remember, what gets communicated is not what you intended to communicate, it’s whatever is understood by the person receiving the communication.

Mike Jones specialises in developing Emotional Intelligence.  If you would like help to improve your and your team’s communication and relationship skills call him now on +44 (0)1908 509088 or email

About Mike Jones

Mike Jones is an executive coach specialising in developing Emotional Intelligence through transitional and performance coaching. You can contact him directly on +44(0)7747 011 589 or via

One Comment

  • 4 Apr 2013 | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve been using online communication for years and years, and I am still amazed at how peculiar people are online. I am coming to believe that the online versions are the real them – unvarnished with social conventions. We all think “Oh button it!” (or something more Anglo Saxon) when listening to someone spout on and on in a face-to-face situation. We rarely say it though. Online, we do. Or lots of people do anyway. That’s good and bad.

    I totally agree that the outcome of any communication is what is heard, not what is said (or typed), but there also has to be a degree of personal responsibility on the recipient’s behalf. When you read something that seems iffy, just take a moment before deciding upon your reaction. Remember that online communication doesn’t have all the other clues and softeners, so pause after receiving – don’t jump into a huff, but pause to think if it was meant in the way you have read it.

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