I often say, “I’m so glad social media wasn’t a ‘thing’ when I was younger.”
I did my fair share of stupid stuff. I hurt people, I made poor decisions and I ran with the wrong crowd. I cannot imagine how social media would have deepened the negative impact of each of these choices.
But let’s face it. Social media also does a lot of good. It opens the door for ongoing connections with people who live far away. It enables communication with others in a real-time and personal way. It provides an avenue for promotion and follow-up with very little effort or expense.
Given the power of social media—both for good and for evil—leaders need to be especially careful.
The very real negative side of social media lies just on the other side of civility.
Why? I think there are three main reasons why incivility and disrespect thrive in the social media environment.
1. Tone becomes subjective.
We’ve known this for some time regarding email communication. In fact, for years, leaders in every organization have said, “When there is conflict of any kind, have the conversation in person and not over digital communication.” The problem is, when we simply read words on a screen, we can insert any kind of tone into the message we want.
Wrong assumptions fuel incivility and disrespect.
2. Anonymity fuels assertiveness.
Even perceived anonymity gives us a boldness we never knew we had. Why? Because we “never” come face-to-face with the person. Have you done it? You see a friend being attacked by someone online and you jump into the comments to tell the person everything that’s on your mind?
Social media gives us a false assurance of anonymity. And because of that, we say things we would never say if we were standing face-to-face with that person.
3. Misunderstandings are multiplied.
Many of us have posted things on social media that weren’t as clear as they probably should have been. Social media provides an avenue for people to jump on a misunderstanding and take it further than it needs to go. And it’s often not just one person, but many people, jumping on the train.
So, as leaders, what do we do?
I am a firm believer that leaders go first.
We must find ways to lead the charge to help people see there is a different way to behave.
Here are three tools I have found to be helpful in leading with civility on social media.
1. Pray first.
Before you post, reply, like, or share – pray. Praying often softens our hearts toward others—so I encourage you to pray for the other person before you engage them in a potentially heated or controversial subject.
2. Post like you’re talking to your mom.
I’m not sure if this will resonate for everyone – but we all have that one person for whom we have tremendous respect. If we think of them before we post on social media, many of us will immediately edit our posts or not post at all.
3. Always assume the best.
Assuming the best about others, especially those you don’t know well, is a difficult endeavor for most of us. It’s far easier to assume the worst about others and their intentions or beliefs. But let’s not do that. Assume the best—always. Make assuming the best your default and keep doing it until someone give you a reason not to.
We need more civility in our world…especially in light of recent events.
We need more respect in our world…especially today.
It starts with us. It starts today.
We can have a significant impact on those around us through our interactions on social media. Be civil. Treat others with respect.
Let’s change the world together!
Tim Parsons serves as lead pastor at The Journey Church outside Indianapolis, a host site for the GLS. His passion is to help people lead better—at work and at home. Tim’s blog on leadership has been recognized as one “Christian leaders should be reading.” You can find him at www.timparsons.me where you can get his free e-book Leadership For The Rest Of Us, or connect with him on Twitter: @_TimParsons_.