The End of Privacy in Relational Conflict?

The End of Privacy in Relational Conflict?

Much has changed in the last 20 years when it comes to people’s perspective of privacy and what they are willing to share in public. From people sharing their problems about others on Oprah-style TV shows to the world of constant changing boundaries and the Internet.

Photos are tagged, comments are left, videos are recorded, people are Googled and with the advance of smart phones, people’s everyday activity is captured in video, photography, tweets or social status updates. And it’s not all about spreading the love- people’s comments about others appear for all to see, whether that was initially the intention or not.

We live in a voyeuristic world, watching each others relational problems worked out in public. From celebrity split ups, to Twitter spats. In Big Brother, people often don’t express their feelings directly to each other. Instead they come into the Diary Room; not to write and process their thoughts to themselves, but instead to share it with the world. And that’s now considered normal to talk to the world before you talk to the person directly. How the world has improved?

Google’s Eric Schmidt famously said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Although it got a lot of people upset (remember he was the CEO of the largest search engine at the time) I would agree with his statement.

“You have zero privacy anyway,” Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy famously said in 1999. “Get over it.” And that was said long before the days of Twitter & Facebook.

What you do with zero privacy is pretty important.

With the News of the World Phone Hacking drama in the UK, perhaps even the conversations that we have in private on the phone aren’t as private as we once thought they were. And anyone who knows of the iPhone in the pocket trick (the one where it randomly calls any one of your contacts without your awareness), perhaps any conversation with anyone, could have a un-intended listener on the other end.

And with all of these developments that digital communications bring, the developments should not get in the way of good communication.

But sadly, it seems that good communication has at best not kept up, or at worst regressed whilst the technological and digital advancements in communication go from strength to strength.

So how do we safeguard ourselves, to know how to improve our ‘digital’ communication? Often people say things that are potentially most damaging and hurtful when they are:

1. Upset or angry and wanting to vent.

2. Wanting to process their thoughts about a disagreement.

3. Wanting to make something happen by ‘going public.’

4. Wanting to protect themselves or their own reputation.

5. Wanting to cause pain or humiliate someone else.

6. Communicating from a place of defensiveness, with a desire to present themselves in a better light.

When people’s lives suddenly become far more public and you don’t know where your comments will land,  what does that mean when processing emotions? You may be in a meeting, sharing an opinion about someone, and someone else (with a lack of what you would consider to be common sense), feels it would be interesting to tweet out what you’ve said. Or you may have written something on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your boss to see, but one of your colleagues has kindly passed this on to her. Or you may have sent an angry text to a friend, slagging off a mutual friend, to find that your friend was in the driver’s seat and had asked your mutual ‘friend’ to check your message and read it out loud. Ooops!

I tend to function with the thinking, that anything I write anywhere online and say in public, regardless of privacy filters, has the potential to end up anywhere and be seen by anyone.

There have been plenty of people who have lost their jobs or have been suspended from their responsibilities as a result of a mis-timed Facebook comment, that they thought only their friends could see. And whatsmore there are plenty of people who are no longer friends due to careless venting. Yes use privacy filters; that’s just common sense. But don’t put too much faith in them. Put more faith in good patterns of communication, using your words to build people up, being wise in what you say when you’re needing to work issues through.

I don’t want to waste lots of energies getting really upset about privacy. The problem will only get worse. So what do you do when you’re upset with someone? I’d function with four simple approaches:

1. If you have something that you don’t want someone to hear or read, maybe you shouldn’t be saying or writing it in the first place. (Amendment of Schmidt’s quote)

2. If you’re needing to resort to any form of being ‘anonymous’ when you’re writing, chances are you shouldn’t be saying it in the first case. It’s a short cut that doesn’t lead anywhere good. Speak the truth in love, and stand by your words. If you’re so angry you want to hurt others, deal with the anger in yourself first before you speak.

3. If there’s someone you’re upset with, maybe you shouldn’t go online to vent, or even send emails/ text messages where the tone of voice, intonation, emphasis of points can be missed. Instead, be radical and make an approach to go prehistoric and go and ‘talk’ with them instead. It’s amazing what can be worked through when people talk! The person who holds on to anger, is normally the person who ends up bitter.

4. And if you do write: focus on what you want to communicate, what words will uplift, encourage, challenge, bring change and resolution. Aim to understand more than to be understood. If you’re in doubt, encourage someone who is one-step removed from the situation to check on how helpful, accurate or healthy your communication is.

Than it doesn’t matter what people read, as you’ll be proud of your carefully chosen words. And what’s more they’ll be far more likely to achieve a wonderful objective: Resolution.

Now that’s a revolution worth gunning for.