Not long ago a message appeared in my e-mail inbox:
LinkedIn suggests we may know each other. Must be because of the mutual relationships. Would be glad to invite you to Link In if useful to you.
Intrigued, I searched the sender’s name and discovered that we did indeed have a few connections in common. I should note, have a personal policy of restricting my social networks to people I know personally. Normally I would have ignored the unsolicited message, but because our common connections are individuals I respect and count as some of my most trusted colleagues, I responded and tried to build rapport.
Thanks for your note. I don’t believe we have met, so it must be a result of the friends we have in common. I’m pretty close to —. How do you know them?
Oddly this was the response I got:
If you saw my profile on LinkedIn, and it’s not useful to you …. for me to have reached out, we can just drop it.
Happily, I’ll do just that, but first let’s consider what can be learned from this exchange.
Several years ago I conducted a research project examining how men and women communicate online. What I learned from that research has been helpful in my work as a fundraiser. It also applies to how we use online social media tools. This research taught me that in online conversations we use different “voices” or modes of communication. My research, rooted in the work of Deborah Tannen, identified the following pairs of communication modes:
Power – Statement expressing a unique experience, ability or knowledge.
Solidarity – Statement sharing a common experience, ability or knowledge.
Report – Statement of opinion or information without seeking or reflecting cognizance of a response.
Rapport – Statement of opinion or information seeking or cognizant of a response.
Information – Seeking or contributing information without sacrificing status.
Community – Seeking or contributing information in an effort to connect.
Conflict – Statements with little regard to feelings or opinion of others.
Avoidance – Statements structured to avoid conflict or mend broken fences.
In face-to-face conversations, men tend to use the communication modes of power, report, information, and conflict. Women prefer to use solidarity, rapport, community, and avoidance. In online communication women are slightly more likely to employ conflict and men are slightly more open to using rapport. However, for men the increased use of rapport is at odds with the face-to-face behavior which creates dissonance in the perceived authenticity.
In my experience working in fundraising I have found that solidarity, rapport, community and avoidance are the modes most constructive to building a meaningful relationship with constituents. I believe the same is true in our use of social media. Unfortunately for men, these modes do not come naturally. Because of the importance of authenticity, this is a challenge for men that seek to use social media.
Let’s reexamine the earlier thread in light of the communication modes.
LinkedIn suggests we may know each other. [community] Must be because of the mutual relationships. [solidarity] Would be glad to invite you to Link In if useful to you. [community]
Thanks for your note. [rapport] I don’t believe we have met, so it must be a result of the friends we have in common. [community] I’m pretty close to <connections>. How do you know them? [rapport]
If you saw my profile on LinkedIn, [information] and it’s not useful to you [power] …. for me to have reached out, [conflict] we can just drop it. [conflict]
What I discovered in this exchange was that the real motive of the sender was not to connect through our shared networks, but was an inauthentic effort of the sender to leverage our shared connections to build their perceived position of power and influence (e.g. grow their number of connections).
Martha White Mohler on Facebook says
I was going to comment on this, but think I will wait and see what my friends want to do and make a group statement. I’ll wait until later on. I think I know your thoughts on this (brilliant, btw)…but do you understand how I feel about this issue? :-)
Martha White Mohler on Facebook says
my smiley face got surgically divided!
Ben Mohler on Facebook says
I was going to respond using all the male modes of communication, but I just sounded like a big jerk. Thanks for the comment that reflected solidarity, community, rapport, and avoidance. Although, I was surprised to see a former English teacher use the abbreviation btw [conflict].