Earlier this week, this article was forwarded to me by a friend on Twitter.
Ben Langhinrichs of Genii Software discusses two elements of responsible social interactions, “The Golden Rule” (treat others the way you want to be treated) and to clean up after your self. I agree with him that these are important lessons to keep in mind when communicating in the social world, but I want to offer some additional advice on the first lesson in his post.
The first lesson Ben discusses is a no-brainer, and he covers a lot of important points. I do not think anyone would dispute the fact that “The Golden Rule” should be at least part of the filter used when crafting communications. In past articles I have written on this topic and when speaking about this in person, I often use the phrase “Don’t put it on the internet if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to know about it.” While for each of us the figure may not be their grandmother, the point is easily made. Be respectful in all interactions and you will receive the same in return, typically speaking.
He also took a moment to emphasize the fact that the internet never forgets. Thanks to things like Google caching and other syndicating sites that seem to remember everything, you can not simply recant a poor communication. This leads to many conversations, and while like Ben I don’t intend to point out every example of this gone wrong, I do want to spend a moment discussing how to handle the situation when this does happen. Obviously, knee-jerk reactions and inflammatory or negative responses can lead to these types of communications that we want to try and avoid. It is OK to have emotion and charge in your social interactions. Candid conversations can be some of the most meaningful conversations you have, but can also be dangerous if done without proper thought or discretion. So should we never have candid conversations?? NO! Candid and real conversations are very important to making you and/or your organization human and approachable.
The better way to handle missteps would be to use it as an opportunity to show your character. Publicly and openly apologize and show how you are correcting your actions. Make amends with the person/group you offended in the same public forum to show you are able to own up to what you say and do. The long term benefit of this show of character is without equal. The chance of avoiding any and all negative or poorly perceived communication all together is not realistic, so the mature thing to do is prepare for the eventuality and have a plan in place ahead of time. This will go a long way in developing a mature social practice for you and/or your organization.