Some relationships are permanent; examples can include our families, life partners, close friends, and professional colleagues. These are lifelong bonds we form with some people.
Other relationships are transient. Transient relationships with friends, acquaintances, coworkers and colleagues can be highly enriching or quickly forgotten and last for a few days or a few years, either way, they are temporary.
Today we have a new type of relationship – the virtual relationship. This type of relationships is quite new, relatively speaking. In virtual “relationships”, we form connections (note that they’re called “followers” or “friends” or, literally, “connections”) with electronic representations of people. We may see their photos and be able to read their words, but we don’t interact in the classic sense. For the most part, there is no body language, inflection, intonation, volume, pitch, nonverbal behavior, or gesticulation.
Social media does a lot of good in connecting people, empowering movements, and boosting worthy causes. But it presents challenges, too. We can see and experience language and reactions on social media that would never occur in person, such as trolls who attack others for no reason, gratuitous use of obscenity, polarizing opinions, name calling, and so forth. A flat medium permits that. Such behavior, if manifested in a face-to-face, public setting would be considered gross and coarse. People make political, sexual, and religious comments on social media that they would never utter in the actual presence of other people.
Consequently, as a leader, our third dimension of relationships—virtual—requires you to be very thoughtful when engaging for these three reasons:
Nothing published on any social media platform, no matter how restrictive you are in setting your connection permissions, is ever private or actually restricted to that platform. There is a good chance that others will learn of your private views and no matter how wonderful they are, this can lead to trouble.
There are attack dogs on social media platforms who are always on the prowl spoiling for a fight. Many of them are bullies with vast inferiority complexes (the hallmark of bullies) who are seeking to bring everyone down to their own levels of poor self-worth. Such fights can be enervating. You may want to cull your virtual connections for this reason.
Social media platforms can turn into vast vanity publishing operations, allowing anyone to say almost anything. And what is said becomes indelible. We all leave a trail. It’s hard to erase things that have been posted in the past unless you delete your account entirely, which still isn’t foolproof. What you’ve published two years ago can return to haunt you next year.
Relationships, whether they are permanent, transient, or virtual, fuel your journey. Some are constant sources of power, some are present for certain intervals and provide guidance and help, and some should be avoided, ended, or minimized because they represent unwanted detours, excess weight, or distraction. With those distinctions in mind, it’s important to focus on relationships that help you sustain your journey, whether they be permanent or temporary or virtual.
Adapted from Lifestorming (Wiley, 2017) by Alan Weiss and Marshall Goldsmith