We’ve all been there. We’ve either witnessed it or have personally shared the anxiety of working through conflict using digital communication. With life running at the pace of email, texting, Facebook and Twitter, solving conflict on these mediums has become almost as natural as breathing. But is this always the best way to go?
In a work relationship with my boss, I once inadvertently stirred up a fire over a lengthy resignation over email. My heart was big, but that mistake was bigger! In my marriage, I’ve had my share of failed communication where we nitpicked over words in a text. “What did you mean when you said…” Or stewing to myself, How come she doesn’t answer me right away?
I’ve caused conflict before by writing opinionated political posts through Facebook and Twitter. And then thought afterwards, was that really edifying? Or was I trying to indirectly “respond” to someone I highly disagreed with? Should I have responded to that person privately, instead of “publicly”?
There’s no doubt that today’s digital culture can put us at risk to make blunders when we work through conflict. It’s difficult to know how much to share with another person over the Internet and what to save for personal conversation. In fact, many of our problems are compounded because we don’t use restraint in digital communication.
One major problem with conversations that take place over email, texting and social media is that words are encrypted and sent without context, body language, real time, and space. Without the proper context words can be abrasive to another, causing confusion and damage. When we send words digitally words can be inadvertently amplified or diminished because they are stripped of body language—emoticons can help :-).
Without real time, words that are emailed, texted, tweeted and posted can also be wrongly overanalyzed and lead us to false conclusions.
Wisdom with words
One of the greatest pieces of wisdom that speaks to the use of digital communication and social media in Scripture can be found in the tiny book of 3 John. John faced an adversary who was selfish, inhospitable and hostile towards God’s people. Not only that but also this person was causing John and his colleagues quite a headache by spreading rumors and lies. Yet John skillfully responded to the situation.
While he called attention to the problem in this short letter, he didn’t fully indulge. In fact, he said to his friend, “I have many things to write to you, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink. But I hope to see you right away, and we will speak face to face” (3 John 1:13).
John’s response was not a public shaming of his adversary. Nor was it escalation. Nor was it skirting the issue. John used “social media” of the day (pen and paper) to call attention to the issue and to prepare his friend for a real in person conversation. The same skill can be used when we face conflict today in our dating relationships and marriages.
It’s true that some issues can be clarified quickly by a simple text message. But others are too big to solve through a digital conversation. One of the best things we can do if we start to sense a conflict arising that is too big to handle is:
1) Pause and restrain words before things get heated
2) Carefully state the problem
3) Make arrangements for a face-to-face meeting where all the senses can be used to make amends and work toward a peaceful end
Saying too much beforehand is a risk that can bring us harm- especially if the limitations of social media may be inadequate to fully communicate what our hearts intend. The instant gratification of sending and receiving responses in a digital conversation can be helpful, but there is wisdom in having the patience to share some things face to face.
Treasure your real space.
Nothing can replace what happens in real space. We all know that. We also know that we’re still going to use digital means to communicate. It’s just the pace of the age we live in and that’s fine. The challenge is to be more skilled in how we communicate through conflict.
It seems like any kind of falling out my wife and I have over texting or emailing seems silly when we actually work out the conflict in person. We’re often reminded that we are for each other rather than against each other. We are on the same team and that our love for one another is worth all the time and effort to repair any damage done digitally.
When I look in to my wife’s brown eyes, hear her voice, touch her hand, and embrace her, it arouses feelings that remind me that we care deeply for one another no matter how great the frustration or disagreement.
And that is the beauty of reality I want more of. When it comes to solving conflict, (let’s face it), using face time is better!