Fighting Over Text: How to Avoid Arguments Online

Paige Geis Bradshaw

We’ve all been there. The back-and-forth Facebook feud, the tagged snarky remarks on Instagram, the passive-aggressive emails, or the texts that take a turn for the worse—virtual communication isn’t always a blessing!

From family members to complete strangers, technology makes it easier than ever for just about anyone to get under our skin. And with more and more of our communication becoming exclusively virtual, online arguments and misunderstandings are thriving. But our online interactions don’t have to be that way!

With a little emotional intelligence and a lot of self-restraint, you can prevent heated engagements, end them entirely, or even flip them into something positive.

The Trouble with Virtual Communication

Texting has made it possible for kids and adults alike to easily connect with faraway friends and family. It also makes our daily interactions with loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors quick and convenient.

That’s what texting is meant to be: easy, quick, convenient, and, most importantly, brief. It’s a great way to check in on and catch up with friends, make plans to meet up in person, share news, and ask clarifying questions.

Texting is not meant for having heavy or serious conversations.

When we text, we miss vital components of non-verbal communication:

  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Hand gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Tone of voice
  • Proximity

It’s difficult to interpret text messages without the combination of non-verbal cues that naturally flow into face-to-face conversations. Is your sister being sarcastic, or is she serious? Is your child’s friend playing around, or actually angry?

Much can be lost in translation over text—or worse, you may end up fighting over text. Frequent fighting over text can be an indication of avoiding difficult discussions and complex emotions. Strong relationships require emotional vulnerability, which can be messy and hard—but necessary.

The lesson to be learned? Save your texting for the small stuff. Those big conversations are much better had in person!

How to Avoid Arguments Online

If you or your child find yourselves in an argumentative corner of the Internet, try out these tricks to keep your head cool and your keyboard cooler:

  • Post and peace out. If you really can’t resist, make your voice heard—then sign off. Turn off your notifications, don’t check for new comments, and move on.
  • Don’t respond right away. Reacting in anger is rarely a good idea. If your blood starts to boil, put your phone down and take a breather. You can calmly articulate your response once you’re in a better headspace.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Compassion and empathy go a long way in an online argument. Adding “I hear you” or “I know what you mean” can completely change the tone of a digital discussion!
  • Take it off screen. Instead of engaging in an argument online, call or text a friend for a quick vent session. Sometimes, all it takes to feel better is letting off a little steam and being validated!
  • Take a break. Put your phone down or step away from your computer. Do something that makes you happy instead of arguing online! Grab a bite to eat, head out on a walk, or rest up with a good book.
  • Take a longer break. If these virtual fights happen often, consider taking a break from social media altogether. Turn off your notifications or delete the apps from your phone. Notice how much lighter you feel already?

Keeping Calm During Disagreements

What is it about disagreement that makes us shift around in our seats? According to this article, it’s because disagreement often feels threatening.

When we’re swept up in the heat of disagreement, we may feel like we’re about to lose something—our perspective, our power, or our feeling of being right. The spark of disagreement can trigger our “fight or flight” instincts, taking us down a path of uncharacteristic behavior and words we should have left unsaid.

How do you keep your cool during disagreements? The trick is mindfulness and intention.

Step Away

Leaving the space where the argument is taking place offers you the opportunity to cool off. Walk a few laps outdoors, sit down somewhere and sit with your feelings, or distract yourself with an activity or chore.

This gives your mind and body the chance to settle down. When emotions are less intense, you have more control over your next move.

Take Slow, Steady Breaths

Never underestimate the power of breathwork! From childbirth to anxiety attacks, steady and controlled breathing techniques can make a world of difference.

Shift your focus from your anger to the air you’re breathing. Feel it move in, through, and out of your body. After a few minutes, you should start to feel centered and more calm. Try these deep breathing exercises with your child!

Identify Your Feelings

In flustered and highly emotional circumstances, you or your child often aren’t sure what you’re feeling. Emotional overwhelm can cloud your ability to name specific feelings. It’s easy to reduce it all to anger, especially for kids who haven’t learned how to cope with emotions, but it’s likely your feelings are deeper and more complex than that.

If you or your child are having a hard time identifying your feelings, try writing all the things you feel on a notepad or in your journal. Listing them out on paper can help you or your child string together what you’re feeling—and why.

Bring Yourself Back

After you or your child have reached a healthier headspace, reconnect your mind and body by moving around. Place your feet on the ground and feel the floor. Rhythmically tap your fingers on your desk. Slowly walk around the room.

These simple movements minimize stress and bring you back to where you were prior to the interaction. (Mindfulness experts call this “dropping anchor.”)

Turning Conflict Around

In a study performed by researchers at the University of Washington, it was discovered that most Internet users want to have better hard conversations online.

“Despite the fact that online spaces are often described as toxic and polarizing,” said researcher Amanda Baughan, “what stood out to me is that people, surprisingly, want to have difficult conversations online.”

Online, over text, and in other virtual environments, you and your child can try these three tips to mitigate an argument and resolve disagreement in a more positive and fulfilling way:

  1. Remember humanity. You’re not going head-to-head with a robot—you’re engaging with a human being! Just like you, they have their own opinions, experiences, and emotions. Don’t let the anonymity of Internet forums of the safety of screens harden your conversations.
  1. Be constructive. Offer sincere compliments when warranted. “That was well said” or a validating “I understand where you’re coming from” can tear down walls and help you find common ground.
  1. Admit your shortcomings. You’re only human! We all have flaws and blind spots. Remember them and maintain humility in your interactions.

The next time you or your child run into conflict over virtual communication, turn to these tips to see your way out! Digital disagreement doesn’t have to destroy relationships. And if your child is too young to employ these strategies, Troomi can help keep your kids protected from cyberbullying and heated conversations with Internet strangers—all while promoting healthy technology habits! Click here to learn more about Troomi’s mission.