Socially awkward? Social media could be to blame
Ever find yourself wondering whether social media is a good thing? Yes, it's a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, especially as we're all so busy nowadays, but could it be making social media interactions in real life more awkward?
If you're anything like most of us, you Google someone before meeting them - whether you're going on a blind date, meeting new friends or having a job interview. We assume that finding out more about somebody will make it easier to break the ice - right? Actually, according to a recent study carried out in Arizona, that's not actually true.
The study, carried out by researchers at Benedictine University, revealed that searching for somebody online - on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter - and familiarising yourself with their online presence, could actually make you more nervous when it comes to interacting with them in real life. Social media causes our brains to imagine every possible scenario that could occur - that includes worst-case scenarios! So if you're a natural worrier, using social media to research people before you meet them could raise your anxiety levels - especially bad news if you suffer from social anxiety.
The disadvantages of social media
By assuming you know somebody after viewing their profile on social media, you could fail to pay attention to the small cues we pick up on in person which tell us how suited we are to one another and how well we'll get along. For example, reading a date's amusing Facebook updates might mean you overlook their sexist attitude in person and fail to realise you're not well-matched. Spending all that time researching people online before you've met them could also cause us to overlook opportunities to make new friends and become involved in relationships. How many times have you discounted somebody after finding something out about them online?
Don't fall into the trap of spending all your time communicating with others through social media and text messages either - these methods of communication can't compare to meeting in person and having a real conversation. We need to use our social skills to keep them functioning, and isolating yourself by relying on social media as your sole means of keeping in touch with your network of friends is bad news.
Using social media to your advantage
Avoiding the internet and social media isn't exactly easy though, and you don't need to stop using them entirely when it comes to finding out more about people prior to meeting them. Here's how to use these resources to enhance your social skills.
Set yourself a time limit
Allow yourself five minutes maximum to research somebody using Google or social media. You just want some basic info - like checking your date doesn't have a criminal record - you don't want to give yourself the opportunity to pre-form opinions on the other person before you meet them.
Use your information wisely
It's normal for us to expect to be Googled to a certain extent before we meet someone - but it is important to use the information you gather to your advantage. A company website bio or LinkedIn profile could provide you with a talking point at a job interview. Perhaps you both went to the same university? If you're googling a new friend or potential date for personal reasons, try to avoid using the information you've discovered to interrogate them, and instead use it as a starting point for a conversation which covers mutual interests. For example, if their feed is full of holiday pictures, ask them where their favourite destinations to travel to are, rather than going into detail about what your favourite picture of theirs was!
Keep things in perspective
We all edit the parts of our life we post on Facebook, instagram and Twitter. Crossing the line at a Marathon, jumping out of a plane or lazing on a tropical beach are all carefully-selected moments from someone's life. So don't feel intimated by a potential date's instagram feed - remember that to an outsider, your instagram or Twitter feed could look just as impressive. If you're feeling nervous prior to a real-life meeting, spend a few minutes looking at your own Facebook profile - studies show that this could boost your self-esteem (1).
Social media and the internet have provided us with new ways to find out about people we have never actually met, but we need to ensure we use them wisely to boost our social skills rather than leaving ourselves feeling isolated and awkward.
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