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Discuss situation with someone who knows you
Ask them what they think about post and response you plan to send. Having input from others who are hopefully more objective can help you to step back from situation and look at it differently. Suler recommends getting out of medium in which conflict occurred - in this case talking to someone in person - to gain a better perspective.
Choose whether or not you want to respond
You do have a choice, and you don’t have to respond. You may be too upset to respond in way that you would like, or it may not be worthy of a response. If post is accusatory or inflammatory and person’s style tends to be aggressive or bullying, best strategy is to ignore them.
Assume that people mean well, unless they have a history or pattern of aggression
Everyone has their bad days, gets triggered, reacts insensitively, and writes an email without thinking it through completely. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have good intentions.
On other hand, some people pick fights no matter how kind and patient you are with them. They distort what you say, quote you out of context, and make all sorts of accusations all to vilify and antagonize you. Don't take "bait" by engaging in a struggle with them - they'll never stop. Sometimes, best strategy is to have nothing more to do with someone.
Clarify what was meant
We all misinterpret what we hear and read, particularly when we feel hurt or upset. It’s a good idea to check out that you understood them correctly. For example, you could ask, “When you said...did you mean...or, what did you mean by...?” Or, “when you said...I heard...is that what you meant?” Often times, what we think someone said is not even close to what they meant to say. Give them benefit of doubt and chance to be clear about what they meant.
Think about what you want to accomplish by your communication
Are you trying to connect with this person? Are you trying to understand them and be understood? What is message you hope to convey? What is tone you want to communicate? Consider how you can convey that.
Verbalize what you want to accomplish
Here are some examples, “I want to understand what you’re saying.” “I feel hurt by some stuff that you said. I want to talk about it in a way that we both feel heard and understood.” “I want to find a way to work this out. I know we don’t agree about everything and that’s okay. I’d like to talk with you about how I felt reading your post.” “I hope we can talk this through because I really like you. I don’t want to be argumentative or blaming.”
Use “I” statements when sharing your feelings or thoughts
For example, “I feel...” versus “You made me feel...”
Use strictly feeling statements
Feeling statements include saying you felt hurt, sad, scared, angry, happy, guilty, remorseful, etc. In everyday conversations, we describe our feelings differently than this. For example, we say that we felt “attacked”, “threatened”, “unsafe”, or “punched in stomach”. When person we’re upset with is not present, or able to read our words, this is an understandable way to express full depth of our feelings and experience. Generally though, these statements are not simply feeling statements because they contain within them unexpressed beliefs. For example, you believe that you were attacked by person, not that it just felt that way. If you want to communicate with person involved (or they can read your words), it is best to stick to simple feeling statements otherwise they will hear you as accusing them of attacking them and be angry or upset with you. Some people get confused why other people get upset with them when they think they are only expressing their feelings; usually in these cases there were unstated beliefs expressed which person reacted to.
Choose your words carefully and thoughtfully, particularly when you’re upset
Do your best to keep in mind that person will read your post alone. You are not physically or virtually present with them to clarify what you meant, and they can’t see kindness in your eyes. They must rely entirely on your words to interpret your meaning, intent, and tone. This is why it’s important to choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. You can still be real and honest while being selective.
Place yourself in other person’s shoes
How might they hear your message? To avoid unnecessary conflict or a lot of hurt feelings, it helps to take into account who you’re writing to. One person might be able to hear you say it exactly how you think it, and another person would be threatened by that style of communication. Think about other person when writing your email or post. Do your best to communicate in a way that is respectful, sensitive, and clear to them. People often say, to do that feels like they’re being controlled and why shouldn’t they just write it way they want to. Of course you can write it any way you want, especially online, but if you want to communicate with this person and have them hear and understand what you’re saying, it helps to think about how they will hear it.
Use emoticons to express your tone
In online communication, visual and auditory cues are replaced by emoticons, for example, smiles, winks, and laughter. It helps to use emoticons to convey your tone. Additionally, if you like person, tell them! Having a conflict or misunderstanding doesn’t mean you don’t like person any more, but people often forget that reality, or don’t think to say it. It may be most needed during a tense interaction.
Start and end your post with positive, affirming, and validating statements
Say what you agree with, what you understand about how they feel, and any other positive statements at beginning of your email. This helps set a positive tone. End on a positive note as well.
The Paradox of Online Communication Handling conflict constructively is hard at best times, and it can be even harder online. It can take a great deal of effort, care, and thoughtfulness to address differences, tensions, and conflicts online. Paradoxically, some of same things that contribute to heightened conflict online can contribute to peaceful resolutions as well. The internet is an ideal place to practice communication and conflict resolution skills. Just as absence of visual and auditory cues, anonymity, invisibility, delayed reactions, and neutralizing of status free us to say what ever negative thing we want, they can also free us to try new, and more positive communication styles and to take all time we need to do that. As with any new technology, internet can be used to enhance our personal growth and relationships, or to alienate us from each other. It’s our choice.
Kali Munro, M.Ed., is a psychotherapist in private practice with twenty years experience. She offers free healing resources at her site, KaliMunro.com