This is a post in a series about building relationships online. Previous posts:
1. Building relationships part 1 – bridging and bonding social capital
2. Building relationships part 2 – drawing on Dale Carnegie to build relationships on Twitter
In this post, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite communication theories (and if I say that about almost any communication theory, I mean it): symbolic interactionism.
I won’t explain the entire theory here, just say that it is a theory about how meaning comes about: through social interaction (communication). One of the meanings that emerges through social interaction is the sense of self. We acquire a sense of self, of who we are and what we are like, through interacting with others. One of the ways in which this happens is that we see ourselves in others as if reflected in a mirror. We grow to believe what we see in those mirrors.
That explains why, when faced with people who believe we’re stupid, we second-guess ourselves, we become stupid. When around people who believe in us, we raise up to those expectations. It explains the influence parents have on us – they are the mirrors we see ourselves in when we’re little and fragile, and those mirrors influence who we become (reason 65,492 why I’m scared to become a parent). It explains Theory X and theory Y in management and education.
Of course, there are several factors that come into play, and we can’t entirely hold others accountable for who we are. But to a large extent, who we are depends on our history of human interaction, according to symbolic interactionism.
We seek people in whose mirrors we see images of us we like – as we should.
So now, let me turn this around, and apply it to building relationships online. You are a mirror. You reflect others’ images back to them. How do people see themselves in your mirror?
Ask yourself – what must this person think I think about them? Who do they think I think they are? How do they see themselves in the mirror that I am?
Your attitude and beliefs about people, as manifested in your communication, form this mirror. Do you show the best in people, or are you the kind of mirror that emphasizes the weaknesses, the negatives?
One way of building relationships (online and off) is being the kind of mirror people seek to look into, because they like what they see, or because they’re amused, or because it helps them grow – or just because, it makes them feel good.
So, remember, how you see people is often how they come to see themselves – especially if they’re young and fragile.
Being quite a critical spirit myself, I struggle with the burden of the practical implications of this theory.
There are implications for personal relationships, but also for management, education, PR, marketing, advertising, Web usability, to name a few.
What sense do you make of this?