It's very common and matter of course to connect with people using social media. Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Twitter are some of the mediums that we use to connect with others on.
The boundaries between one's personal and professional lives might get blurred for different reasons: due to meeting some new people you connect with at a hackathon, at a conference, or someone you have heard of as being good in your field and who you tried to connect with to discuss ideas at some point.
Irrespective of what your reason for wanting to connect with anyone is, it is important to respect and maintain a healthy understanding of boundaries. Say for instance, you might wish to be overtly enthusiastic to someone completely new, but it is pertinent to give the other person their space, not overwhelm them.
Similarly, social media is also a place for different social and political opinions that often co-exist with each other but also come to head by way of heated verbal clashes online. You sometimes have the luxury of taking a debate on, and discussing it threadbare. However, it's a different matter when you're running into the person everyday at your workplace.
It might be important to filter content so that your work space doesn't clash with your friends circle and vice versa. Let's look at a few ways in which boundaries can be maintained on social media when we get to know new people:
1. Privacy settings, Filtered and Customised Lists
It is likely that you are already aware of that one person who is waiting to pick up a fight and be rude to several different people on a comment thread, if the content they see isn't to their liking. If you are aware of the damage that one person's behaviour is likely to cause it will be useful to hide certain content from them in particular.
Where Facebook has the option of customised lists where friends, relatives, work colleagues, acquaintances and several other categories of people can be devised, mediums like Instagram and Twitter have the option of a protected account. Don't think your colleagues or completely new social media friends should be seeing posts about your mental health struggles or commentary about a controversial political topic? Create a list to filter some people out or simply maintain a protected account so that not everyone can view your posts.
There also exist features on Twitter where you can mute certain accounts without the other person knowing, mute certain keywords to avoid certain types of content that you might not wish to see for whatever reason that is personal to you.
2. Filter your friend list, always be polite
Adding or not adding someone is an entirely personal choice. However, there are certain rules of etiquette to be maintained. If you add or follow someone and your request is not accepted or you are not added as a friend by them, don't attempt to add them again, don't send them a message reminding them that you have sent them a request. If your request is accepted, don't like several of their posts in a flurry. This can cause the other person to feel overwhelmed.
If there is something that you would like to connect with the other person over, ask politely and keep your query short and clear. Don't flood the other person with a barrage of information expecting them to sift through it. If the idea is to connect or collaborate, remember that you have to put the effort first and see if the other person is genuinely interested in talking, discussing, meeting up etc. The idea of consent isn't something applicable only to a romantic and/or sexual equation but also to friendships and even conversations struck up between two acquaintances.
Be extremely careful about how you communicate with someone else at work or even outside. Make sure that the content of what you are sharing with them is not something that will put them in any position of discomfort. Inappropriate jokes, memes, invites to events when the other person barely knows you are best to avoid sharing.
3. Think before posting
Before posting any kind of sensitive information, reflect on the different ways that this material could be interpreted and what it could indicate about you. Most sites have a "comments" option where users often get into debates regarding material they post. Yet most people often don't have the time to read any clarifications mentioned here and read only the main post and form opinions based on this.
Your workplace is a space where there are people from diverse backgrounds, sexualities, lifestyle choices, genders and political opinions who come to work on a daily basis. It is important that you are careful about the kind of content you post, you can't afford to post sexist, transphobic, casteist and other insensitive content in the form of articles, comments, jokes.
If there are certain concepts that you would like to understand better then it would be useful to seek out a safe space within which to hash out your more controversial opinions, questions and ideas; especially if you hold certain value systems that can be considered bigoted. However, this doesn't mean that you ask someone to put time and emotional labour simply because you need a certain opinion clarified. It is important to first do the work of researching accurately a certain topic yourself and building your own sense of self-awareness, before you decide to approach someone you don't know too well to explain something to you.
When people don't know each other they usually make judgments based on the impression they get from modes such as social media. It is good to create a positive and kind impression of oneself if there is any interest in getting to know some of the people you are connected with, in real life as well.
4. Separate your accounts
In order to prevent any kind of inconvenience caused due to mixing personal and professional lives online, some people actually maintain two separate accounts - one with their professional contacts and one with personal contacts. While it may take more effort, this option works for people who have strict boundaries regarding mixing of these two circles. Sometimes it might actually be too cumbersome to constantly make separate lists and filters. If you think you're better off actually managing two separate accounts, do that. Basically finding what will work for you as per your situation is the best alternative.
5. Avoid emotional displays
Information posted on social media is accessible to many people the instant it is posted and can be captured or stored, even if it is deleted later. It would be wise to avoid getting into heated discussions or arguments over social media because it will be on display to the networks of both you and the other person. As you may not be able to clarify things in person with everyone reading these comments, it would be best to abstain and have private discussions rather than public ones.
In the event that you do get into a disagreement with someone on social media (instances like that may sometimes be unavoidable), remember that it is important to handle it with grace and dignity. Even if you're unable to win the debate you're in, the impression you create on others by way of not talking down to the other person, not indulging in name calling or any other kind of toxic behaviour is a positive one and something that will go a long way in determining how people interact with you in the future.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind when using social media to connect with friends and colleagues. If you would like to know more on this subject, please do register with us at 1to1help.net. Ultimately, it is also important to remember that nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes and learn from it when it comes to social networking. These are just a few basic rules to keep in mind to allow you to have a better experience of interacting with people online and in real life.
Social networking is a great way to find other people with the same interests as you, find out more about a particular subject of interest or a field of work you're looking to get more experience in. If you would like to discuss any of this or issues relating to this further our counsellors would be happy to help.
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Ollier-Malaterre, A., & Rothbard, N.P. (2015, March 26). Harvard Business Review - Ideas and Advice for Leaders. How to Separate the Personal and Professional on Social Media.Retrieved May 18, 2018, from http://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-separate-the-personal-and-professional-on-social-media
Tariman, J.D. (2010, February ). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Where to Draw the Line: Professional Boundaries in Social Networking. Retrieved May 18, 2018, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2891246/
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