5 things you should know about communicating online


There are many pluses to getting to know someone online – you can remain practically anonymous at the beginning and reveal more about yourself as you go on which is great if you are a bit nervous or shy. However, there are some things you should bear in mind when you are sitting in front of your computer.

Conversation isn’t words alone
Experts say that around 80% of our communication when we are face to face is non-verbal. We are constantly responding to the non-verbal cues people give us to regulate what we are saying and how we are saying it. When we are chatting online we haven’t got the normal visual cues – frowns, smiles etc to tell us if what we are saying is hurting or upsetting the other person; making them happy; or whether they are interested or have grown bored or agitated by the conversation. This means we could, without realising it, go past a normal point where the conversation would dry up if we were face to face. This is fine most of the time but if you are talking about something that is emotional or important it can create a mismatch in what you need and what the other person is giving because they aren’t getting the non-verbal cues.

You are talking to real people with real feelings
There is a danger with online communication that we forget the person we are talking to has a real life, feelings, worries and concerns. What we say, and how we respond to them, will have an impact, often beyond what we are aware of, because we don’t know what else is going on in their lives. If you have never met the person it is even more likely that you will find it difficult to respond with the same sensitivity that you would in your normal human interactions.

Don’t play games, be rude, dismissive or otherwise insensitive. If someone is trying to make contact and you are not interested then say so, politely. It can be tempting to be more abrupt, flirtatious, aggressive or outlandish than you would normally be because you think that you will never meet the person so there will be no consequences. There will be consequences, you just might not know about them. You could damage someone’s self esteem, make them lose trust in online dating or put them off trying to change their situation altogether. The best rule of thumb is to treat others as you would like to be treated. Before you send any message you are unsure of ask yourself how you would feel if you received it.

When you say something it doesn’t just disappear
We speak on average between 7000 and 20000 words a day and about 95% of them are forgotten almost as soon as they have left our mouths; if they are recalled it is often inaccurately unless we record our conversations. When we talk to people online we get the advantage of being able to read through what we have written and edit it before we send it so there is less margin for error. However, once we press the send button we create a permanent record which we can access again and so can the person we sent it to. Also whatever forum we are chatting on whether that is a dating website, email, MSN or Facebook will keep a permanent and traceable record. For this reason it is a good idea to be more conscientious about what we say, promise, suggest and also how we say it.

Read between the lines
Rows and misunderstandings often happen between people when they have resorted to communicating via text, email or instant messaging. This is because the written word can so easily be misinterpreted. We fill in the blanks with our imagination and look for clues like kisses, CAPITAL LETTERS and smiley faces to tell us what mood the author was in when they sent the message. To avoid misunderstandings many couples now have a pact that they will only use electronic forms of communication to make arrangements and send light-hearted messages but anything important will be discussed face to face.

Strong imagination
When chatting to someone new online people build a mental image that’s often very different from reality. When we are getting to know someone online it is a bit like reading a book. We build up a mental image of the person just as we do with characters in books. Often if we read a book and then a film is released it is a disappointment because the characters in the film don’t match our imaginings. The same feeling of disappointment can occur when we meet someone we have been chatting to online for the first time. Don’t lose heart, go on a few dates and your mental image will quickly adjust to reality.


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