by Hayley Doyle
We all have a love/hate relationship with WhatsApp, right?
On one hand, it’s super convenient. Straight to the point. Unless it goes off on a tangent (there’s always that one parent on the school WhatsApp…) and then you feel like you need to hire a PA just to keep on top of the pinging messages. But what happens when the mood turns sour? When the sentence doesn’t gel? When one word means a whole something different because you forgot the exclamation mark?! Or when you’re simply caught off guard? Welcome to the WhatsApp fight.
I recently experienced, let’s call it - a “misunderstanding”. What started as a light-hearted exchange between myself and another mum, soon became quite heated. We’d been discussing something rather trivial to do with our kids’ school, which led to a bit of friendly banter and lots of mutually shared opinions, observations and exploding brain emojis. This turned into a good giggle at one point. Laughing emoji went into overdrive. Oh, how we could relate to each other! Until…we didn’t. Something, somehow, got misconstrued. It wasn’t an out-and-out fight, but the wind had changed. A shift in tone. If you can ever be sure of tone on WhatsApp, that is. There was presumed judgement. Presumed standoffishness. Presumed awkwardness. In short, it was all presumed because we were not talking to each other. We were communicating via a computer, essentially.
Author of The Twittering Machine, Richard Seymour urges us to put our phones down and step out into the real world. “These platforms create a spurious intimacy,” he says. “It can feel like you are talking to your friends, but that is not what happens at all. You are talking to a machine. The machine takes a copy of your message, and passes it on, and you have a conversation on the terms of the machine. Perhaps people may wish to consider withdrawing their labour from that exchange, and only using it when they want and need to. Use WhatsApp for personal conversations and keeping up with friends. But don’t let it damage your life.”
The damage had already been done, in my case. Being a self-confessed over-thinker and people-pleaser, I couldn’t cope with the thought of falling out with somebody I would likely bump into every day for the next six years. I had no doubt in my mind, that had we had the exact same sort of conversation over a cuppa, there would not have been any fall-out at all. You can totally disagree with somebody face-to-face and use your own good judgement in how to soften the blow or choose to move on. You might likely laugh at your differences or see the other person’s point more clearly. Everything might have been said gently, but the text made it look harsh. It’s just so completely different as a form of communication. And yes, I totally lost sleep over this. I felt sick. I had a little cry.
The increase in instant messaging services used across our work and personal lives has increased the likelihood of these clashes. Now, more conversations that would be better dealt with in person, end up happening via message. Social media psychologist, Ian MacRae, says, “Different forms of communication tend to have a bit more self editing. On WhatsApp, we tend to send messages before we even think about it.” For example, an email might take a bit more crafting or reflection.
Once upon a time, if we needed to speak to somebody, we made a phone call or found the right moment to have the conversation in-person. In both instances, the other party was prepared to speak because they either made a decision to answer, or physically saw you coming. With an instant message, it’s exactly that…instant. In fact, it’s so quick, and we’re so attached to our phones, that even if we’re in the middle of an important meeting or working towards a big deadline, we will glance at the instant interruption. So, if we decide to reply - quickly - it might not be the most well-thought out response. Still, we’re all guilty of having a question and using WhatsApp to spark an answer pronto. Then we get offended reading the answer. Remember, fights occur easily over text due to being unable to see reactions or hearing tone of voice. Seeing words only sends our imaginations into overdrive. We tend to fill in the blanks ourselves. If only we could be so creative in our work…
My “misunderstanding” blew over, with time, but over WhatsApp. We had to message about something trivial again, so I broke the ice. I kept my messages short, but (hopefully) sweet. I didn’t delve or press, I just kept it light and informative. Adding a ‘xx’. Weeks went by and the laughing emojis made a welcome return. There hasn’t been an opportunity to have a conversation in-person, though, and too much time has passed now. It would be a bit too random to suddenly say, “oh remember that thing we got a bit weird about…?” So, will there always be an underlying awkwardness between us? Because of a WhatsApp exchange?
Have I learnt anything from this? Well, yes I have!
Think Before You Type - Easier said than done, sure. But read it aloud before you hit send. Does this sound like you? Would you say this to this person IRL? Does it suddenly look quite nasty? Bitchy? If your gut bubbles with that funny feeling, delete. Can the conversation wait? Probably. Most definitely.
The Power of Emojis - Who’d have thunk it? But emojis hold a lot of power in the WhatsApp world because they totally set the tone. They ARE the tone. Finishing a sentence with a monkey covering its eyes really does sum up how you’re feeling, right?
Ask Before You Voice note - Voice notes are great because you can delete/start again if you aren’t expressing yourself how you’d anticipated. In many ways, you get right to the point, without chit-chat AND by sounding sincere, fun, happy or kind. However, not everybody likes a voice-note. Some loathe them! Check first. Ask if you can send a voice-note. Or you might make a WhatsApp enemy before they’ve even listened to your message.
Mark Messages as Unread - This way, you won’t feel obliged to respond instantly and you have time to think about what to write. It will also eliminate any anxiety you have about wondering what the message is. You can read it, absorb it, and then calmly think of the best way to reply.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say Sorry - If there has been a misunderstanding and it’s escalated quickly, perhaps seeing an instant apology can also escalate a truce. WhatsApp is all about making it happen NOW. So, if you want to get past a bad moment, let it out, say you’re sorry. If the disagreement is going to continue, kindly suggest having this conversation over the phone or, if possible, face-to-face.