A reader recently asked, “How do you trust people in online relationships? How do you develop relationships with people in the online world?”
She was mostly referring to online relationships and networking in the online world. It’s such a great question and one I’ve struggled with and grappled with over the years.
Here were my thoughts in response to her:
1. Don’t Trust People Instantly
I don’t instantly believe that a person I connect with on the internet has my best interests in mind. That sounds cynical, I know, but I’ve been in the online world long enough to know that there are some people out there who care more about getting a leg up than they do about me as a person.
Ask yourself, “Is this person reaching out in friendship/genuine desire to build an authentic relationship? Or are they just asking for me to do something for them?”
And flip the questions on yourself, too: Are you reaching out to someone in relationship in order to build an authentic friendship or are you reaching out because of what you hope to get for yourself?
2. Don’t Rush Into Relationships
I’ve learned the hard way, that developing genuine, authentic relationships online takes time and effort.
Go slowly. Get to know a person. Watch how they interact with others. Pay attention to whether they are gossiping about others (a warning flag!) or whether they are speaking highly of other people to you.
Ask questions. Invest time. See how you can serve them/help them. And then see if they are reaching out to reciprocate.
Look for other warning signs: such as them demanding that you do certain things or making you feel obligated to be involved in their projects. (And make sure you’re not demanding things of them or making them feel obligated, either!)
3. Don’t Air Other People’s Dirty Laundry
There are a lot of things that go on in your life that don’t need to be written about on the internet. This isn’t about whether or not you are being authentic, rather, it is about you being wise.
I am very careful about sharing things about others on the internet. I have many stories about situations with other people I’ve met online or have interacted with online that would make for great blog posts — at the expense of another person.
If you have an issue with someone, it is better to go directly to them then to address it publicly in a blog post or social media. Even if you don’t name their name, there’s a very good chance they will read it and know that it is about them — and be hurt by it. Worse yet, they could think that it’s about them, but not be sure. Which then makes things really awkward in a relationship.
Here’s my best advice for developing authentic relationships online: if you have an issue with someone, deal with it with them directly. A social media post or blog post is almost never the way to resolve conflict!
4. Don’t Over-Protect Yourself
Now that I’ve said all of this, I want to step back and challenge you to not become so cynical or worried about getting burned that you build up walls and over-protect yourself.
Yes, we want to be wise, but you’ll never develop any close relationships if you don’t put yourself out there and take some risks. Yes, you might get a little hurt — or a lot hurt. But it’s better to get hurt and work through the hurt and find beautiful relationships in the process than to spend all of our life in a safe, protected, and very lonely bubble by ourself.
Be careful, take it slow, and be wise, but do put yourself out there and take some risks. Relationships are worth the risk!