Mindful & Compassionate Communication on Social Media

Social media is becoming politically charged, and these political battles can be very personal and very emotional. How do we avoid falling into the trap of online bickering, name-calling, and all-around lousy communication?
Amanda is a meditation teacher, mindfulness coach and psychologist.
compassion social media
Amanda is a meditation teacher, mindfulness coach and psychologist.

You know the scene all too well. You’ve engaged in a comment war online and suddenly you’ve said things you now regret. Maybe the discussion moved out of the political or abstract realm into the personal. Or maybe you got too familiar with someone that you don’t know that well.

Regardless of how it happened, you are now worried that your words may have truly upset someone. You wanted to be a conduit for peace, hope, and joy but now you feel like you’ve just contributed to the toxic communication happening around you.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has felt this way. It can be so hard to keep our cool when communicating through social media. Text can be easily misinterpreted, so emotions can escalate more quickly than an in-person conversation. And talking to someone who is anonymous to us can cause confusion to increase even more. 

Presently, this is a common situation. Social media is a huge part of the way that we communicate nowadays, like it or not. And even though we may have enjoyed our stress-free scrolls through Facebook and Instagram before, more and more, social media is becoming politically charged, and these political battles can be very personal and very emotional.

How do we avoid falling into the trap of online bickering, name-calling, and all-around lousy communication?

With mindfulness.

Mindful Compassion & Curiosity Online

Staying present, compassionate, and mindful can turn a potentially charged conversation into an opportunity for connection and healing. If what you’d really like to do is connect and have kind conversations online, it can be done.

But we have to first drop the idea that we are going to change someone’s mind. This is absolutely crucial. Don’t even bother to start a conversation or a comment with that intention. Always begin with curiosity. Why do they feel this way?

I promise, if you begin with curiosity the conversation will have a very different tone.

Meditate with Amanda: Clear away limiting beliefs and practice compassion for suffering with these guided meditations by Amanda O’Bryan:

  1. Clear And Release Amanda O'Bryan 15:54
  2. The Practice Of Sympathetic Joy Amanda O'Bryan 13:02

5 Steps Of Mindful Online Communication

Being mindful ultimately means not reacting to anger and fear with more anger and fear. It means tuning in to our basic goodness first and then choosing our actions from that place. 

Here’s a five-step mindful communication process that you can do the next time you find yourself tempted to go-off online.

1. Take a deep breath

I know, it’s becoming almost a joke how much we are hearing this lately. Before doing anything you are supposed to take a deep breath! But, it’s crucial to take a moment before you fire off that comment. Take that breath, take three if you need to. Look around, pull your attention out of cyberspace for a moment. After you’ve taken that breath, take another moment to…

Read more: Mindfulness expert Tara Brach explains the principles of how to let go of anger. She uncovers the responsibility of our own experience and how we can alter our anger patterning.

2. Check in with your body

Our bodies hold a lot of subconscious information. And sometimes our emotions are running the show because our body is not operating at its peak.

Use the H.A.L.T. technique. Am I Hungry? Am I Angry? Am I Lonely? Am I Tired? It may be better for you to log off and address those needs instead.

Try to remember that responding is a choice. And sometimes the best choice is to not respond.

But if you have taken that breath and checked in with your physical state, and still feel that the best choice in this moment is to respond, then ask yourself…

3. Who is this person?

Is this a friend or family member that you are about to react to? More often than not, an in-person conversation will be much more productive and much more civil. If your intention is connection, that is so much better accomplished by talking in person. Call them up. Make plans to get a coffee.

Don’t forget there are potential real-life ramifications, and online comments can be misinterpreted easily.

Is this a stranger? All the more reason to tread lightly. Imagine you are in a public place. You have overheard this comment in real life. What would you actually say in that situation? Would you interject? Would you ask questions? Or would you just yell in their face how wrong they are? I doubt it.

Think about their perspective for a moment. They have an untold story and they have very real reasons for feeling the way they do. I’m often reminded of the saying “there but for the grace of God go I” — meaning that I could easily be in this person’s shoes and feel what they are feeling if I had lived their experiences. We just never know what fear is driving someone. Try to connect to their better nature, not their pain. 

Read more: Neil Tranter reflects on smartphone addiction and which part new technological designs play in digital stress.

 4. Ask yourself why

Why do I feel the need to make this comment right now? Is there misinformation that you are trying to correct? Why? Are you absolutely sure that you are right? Did you feel insulted? Oftentimes we comment because we want desperately for the other person to change their mind. But it is pretty unlikely that will happen.

Changing someone’s mind requires a deep level of empathy and connection. Try to think of a time that someone was able to change your mind about a belief that you were deeply attached to. It probably took a lot of time, and you likely respected and trusted the person.

When we desperately want someone to think differently than they do, it’s because we are giving them our power. We don’t like the way their words and actions make us feel, and we believe that if they change, we will feel differently. But, no one can make you feel anything without your permission.

Maybe instead of commenting, it would be better to remind yourself of your sovereignty. And if you really want to make a difference in the thing you are fighting for, there are far more impactful ways.


5. If you have decided to engage, then actually engage

Remember to begin this interaction with curiosity. Rather than firing off a comment, or just throwing a bunch of facts out there, try asking questions. Try asking the other person how they came to the conclusion they did. Create a dialogue. Give them a chance to tell their side. If you’d like them to see your perspective, understanding and respecting their point of view is crucial.

The goal of compassionate communication is to reduce suffering in the world. When we communicate mindfully, we are reducing not only our own suffering, but we are also trying to reduce suffering for the person that we are communicating with.

When we begin with mindfulness, compassion arises naturally. We first take the time to check in with ourselves, and our own needs, showing compassion to ourselves. We then are open and curious towards others, and compassion flows naturally outward.

Read more: Manoj Dias reflects how giving thanks and expressing gratitude becomes a transformational power for your wellbeing.

We Are All One

Sometimes we cling to information because it affirms a story that we want to believe. But sometimes that is a story we need to release. The only real truth is that we are all one, and all creatures would prefer happiness over suffering. When you realize you have been clinging to belief, express gratitude to the person who has broadened your perspective:

I realize now that my previous story may have been contributing to suffering, and I am thankful now to release it. I am thankful for the opportunity to practice curiosity. Thank you for opening my mind to a new possibility. Thank you for reminding me that I can always grow and change.

It’s possible, of course, that even after all of this hard work you still have an unpleasant interaction. You can at least be confident of two things

  1. that you acted in your highest and best, and you do not need to feel ashamed or guilty, and
  2. that they felt the compassion you were extending, and even if it doesn’t seem like it now, it may have planted a seed for later.

It’s hard to know what ripple effect our actions can have. A single act of kindness from someone who thinks differently than you can make all the difference in the world.

Discover hundreds of free guided meditations for compassion to increase respon­sive­ness and ability to emphathize with others.

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