Five Ways To Keep Social Media From Hurting Your Career
By Beth Boynton, RN, MS
It’s no secret that the political landscape has left many people -- including nurses and other healthcare professionals -- feeling concerned as the country becomes polarized. Chances are that regardless of which side you fall on or which issues are most compelling to your life, you’ve witnessed some interesting debates on social media between nurses, doctors, politicians, journalists, and members of the general public.
If your social media presence isn’t anonymous and you’re public about being a nurse, your online conduct not only represents you but also the nursing profession as a whole. Patients look to nurses for an elevated sense of ethics, honesty, and expert opinion; thus it is imperative for nurses to practice the utmost integrity, clarity, and thoughtful regard for others in their online communications.
Since repealing and potentially replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of the hot issues of early 2017, it makes sense to discuss this issue within nursing circles. After all, for better or worse, many nursing professionals have seen firsthand how patients, families, colleagues, and organizations have been impacted by the ACA; as patients’ most trusted resource, we nurses have multiple opportunities to educate and learn from others.
Discussing politically charged topics on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter do not always seem to follow respectful rules of conduct; I’ve seen downright disrespectful comments on other people’s posts as well as my own, including online conversations between nurses and other healthcare professionals.
Swearing, sarcasm, and sweeping generalizations are the types of remarks that lead to power struggles, people ganging up on one particular individual, or some individuals shutting down completely; the concept of conflict being a platform for new ideas and growth is lost as the conversation disintegrates into a battle of opposing opinions. If you’re a nurse who is active on social media, I’m betting you’ve witnessed or experienced the kind of lashing out or locking of horns that I’m talking about.
What You Can Do About It
As a nurse and communication expert, I’ve created five strategies for ensuring the integrity of online discussions, whether they’re between nurses or not.
1. Show ownership
Taking responsibility for your own opinion is part of being an assertive nursing professional. A comment such as, “Everyone should grow up and move on” may represent a true feeling that someone is experiencing, but it offers no ownership. This person’s emotional reactions are theirs to have, but a professional would find a way to express their feelings more respectfully. A little self-reflection might lead to a statement such as, “I’m feeling frustrated with this conversation; I’d like to have a more mature discussion using respectful language.” Not only will you help the conversation take on a more positive tone, but you’ll also be modeling assertive communication based on respect.
2. Validate others
It is equally important to validate others’ opinions even when you strongly disagree -- and even if another person is being disrespectful.
Let’s use the same example as above by validating a friend or nurse colleague who has posted the aforementioned comment, “Everyone should grow up and move on.” A validating response might look like this: “It sounds like you’re frustrated with how everyone is talking about this issue, and you think they’re behaving immaturely. Do I understand what you mean?”
Chances are this person will feel validated and more ready to listen to what you have to say.
3. Ask to be validated in return
This may seem like an odd request, but I’ve had some interesting conflicts take on quite a different tone when employing this strategy.
Taking the above scenario a step further: once you’ve validated the person and they’ve affirmed that you’re understanding their position, ask the person for the same courtesy in return. I’ve actually typed in a comment asking, “Now that I understand what you’re trying to say, I wonder if you’d take a few minutes and confirm (or validate) what you perceive my opinion to be?”
This strategy is a non-threatening way to ensure that both opinions get voiced; you can then model respectful language and ownership that might have been missing in another’s expression. In this situation, I might say, “I’m having a hard time with this issue because I’m worried about my son’s preexisting illness; if the ACA is repealed, we might not be able to afford his medications.” Hopefully, the other person will acknowledge your concern, and even if the discussion goes no further, at least there has been some degree of respectful exchange and the acceptance of differing opinions.
4. Recognize that content is inherently out of proportion
Remember that the majority of face-to-face communication is about the content, and the rest is nonverbal language. 1 This includes tone, facial expression, and body posture.
Since social media is typically an exchange of words, It stands to reason that when someone makes a statement that feels inappropriate, what’s missing are cues that would otherwise indicate a more friendly or neutral assertion. Emoticons can help, but they don’t necessarily always do enough to make a difference. Can you envision how or if your perception of the statement, “Everyone should grow up and move on” might be altered when paired with a smiley face and/or a more friendly visual delivery? Would it help at all?
5. Know when to walk away
Lastly, some issues are so complicated or emotionally charged that trying to discuss them respectfully isn’t going to happen in an online dialogue. It’s also worth mentioning that your vulnerability at a particular time or in regard to a specific topic might make it hard to stay in the conversation. It’s always a personal decision, and I give myself permission to exit public conversations during such times; I might choose to return or follow up a thread later on in order to explore further, but not necessarily. I need to feel that my opinion will be respected and the discussion productive.
Be The Difference
Social media can be a great venue to explore opinions and learn what others think and believe, including your fellow nurses and healthcare professionals. Practicing respectful communication is possible, and the more of us that model it, the more likely discussions will lead to a new understanding, collaborative possibilities, and positive relationships. What strategies would you recommend to promote professional dialogue on social media?
Beth Boynton, RN, MS is a Medical Improv Practitioner and author of Confident Voices (CreateSpace 2009) and Successful Nurse Communication (F.A. Davis 2015).
1. Jeff Thompson, Ph.D. Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game? Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game