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4 Strategies to Avert Virtual Arguments

By Tara Swords for Every Day Connected

4 Strategies to Avert Virtual Arguments

If online communication seems to hit a flashpoint more often than offline communication, it’s no wonder. When people interact online, both parties are deprived of critical clues -- tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions -- that otherwise tell us whether a person is happy, sarcastic, annoyed, angry or just tired. Add in typos and the long delays that can pass between responses and you have a recipe for major miscommunication.

It seems pretty obvious that when things get ugly, you should pick up the phone or try to sort out a virtual argument in person. But today, many relationships exist mainly online. So what do you do when a Web-based conversation starts to spiral out of control? Use these tips, which I live by. I can’t remember the last time I had a heated e-conversation.

Virtual Argument Strategy No. 1: Be respectful.
If misunderstanding got you to the breaking point, then pause, take a deep breath and clarify your message. But if disrespect got you to this point, put an end to it immediately. Even if the other party is being disrespectful, aim to lead by example. Decide that you’re going to do what you can to keep the interaction at a higher level -- which means listening carefully to what the other person needs, speaking up about what you need, and seeking common ground or compromise.

Virtual Argument Strategy No. 2: Choose your words carefully.
Because you can’t give facial or vocal cues over email, compensate by choosing your words extra-carefully. This is easier for people who are naturally adept with words, but just about anybody can do it. Read and reread what you’ve written before sending it. If your email is about a touchy situation, save it in your Drafts file and wait for 24 hours before sending it. (Reread it again before you do.) If the situation is extremely contentious, consider asking for feedback from a trusted friend before you hit “Send.”

Virtual Argument Strategy No. 3: Don’t overcompensate.
Don’t rely on smiley faces and excessive exclamation points to give your message levity, especially if you’re conveying something that could be interpreted negatively. That can make your message seem forced and insincere (not to mention unprofessional if you’re in a work situation). When you’re resolving conflict, it’s more important than ever to play it straight: Be genuine, specific and -- remember tip No. 1 -- respectful.

Virtual Argument Strategy No. 4: Keep it between the two of you.
Don’t loop in other people unless they’re germane to the conversation, and certainly don’t loop in others if your intention is simply to mock the original sender. You’ll never rebuild the relationship if you’re not trustworthy. Plus, you don’t know what someone will do with your forwarded email. Remember the woman who emailed her future daughter-in-law a blistering list of criticisms and insults? The email went viral after the recipient forwarded it to her friends. You can bet that relationship will take more than a few words to repair.

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