How online communication hampers real relationships

Though indispensable in many ways, social media and digital communications have serious limitations when trying to make actual connections and build real relationships.

No doubt online communication is amazing, and it’s changed the way we connect as a society.

It allows us to build relationships with people whom we might never have met. On an organizational and brand level, online communication expands the reach of our messages and helps us connect with consumers in a more personal way.

On a personal level, it allows us to form communities with people far and wide, and removes the constraint of time and location. Consider:

  • Several of my closest friends I met first online.
  • I’ve had great relationships with people I’ve met using online dating platforms
  • As you can see from the photo in this post, Snapchat is a very important platform for me to explore different career opportunities, such as being a cop or a Viking. This is very important for my long-term professional development.
  • Heck, if it wasn’t for online communication, I might never have met Gini Dietrich and had the opportunity to be part of the Spin Sucks/Arment Dietrich team.

But online communication doesn’t come without obstacles.

What it is—and isn’t

Online communication isn’t communication and it doesn’t denote relationship.

It’s a great tool to facilitate both of those things, but it is limited in scope.

Imagine if most of your communication with someone was entirely through Snapchat or Twitter and that the relationship never went further (such as meeting in person or via a phone or video conference).

There would be many things you’d miss:

  • The nuances of in-person communication.
  • The ability to converse directly (minus the conduit of a Snapchat filter or trite tweet).
  • Many of the aspects of communication and relationship that we rely on as humans to connect.

Online communication as barrier

A recent study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence showed the results of this communications gap in practice.

The researchers compared the percentage of time adolescents spent communicating with romantic partners in person or on the phone vs. using text messaging and social media sites, to their levels of competence in two basic relationship skills: managing conflict and asserting their needs.

They found that teens who spent the majority of time interacting online had underdeveloped relationship skills.

“In the area of handling some of the tricky parts of relationships, it looks like the more adolescents are using these electronic forms of communication, the worse they’re doing over time in some of these traditional skills,” said, Mitch Prinstein, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience.

How it affects business

In a world so heavily reliant on online communication channels, how do we prevent our use of them from detracting from the actual communication and relationships? We use them as they were intended – as tools.

Whether we are building a strategic plan or working with clients or colleagues, we recognize how the tool we’re using might deaden nuanced communication.

We also must ensure we communicate in a more directly connected way, such as video conferences or in-person meetings (we do both with our internal team and clients). Make sure clients do the same (and implement these actions in the communications strategies we build for them).

Finally, we need to acknowledge the potential of this skills gap in younger workers and provide opportunities for them to communicate more directly and coach them to develop these skills.

Awareness will prevent us from becoming drones.


A version of this article first appeared on SpinSucks.

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