How to handle a group chat situation with multiple participants
One of the biggest challenges comes with the range of people involved. One member, for example, might be a close friend you share jokes with on a one-to-one all the time, some you might know fairly well, but another could be a distant acquaintance. It’s difficult to find a tone that won’t seem overly familiar to some while being oddly formal to others.
A good thing to remember here is that whatever situation you’re in – in the digital sphere as well as actual face-to-face interaction – you can’t be all things to all people at the same time.
Let’s say, for example, you were waiting at a bus stop with your best friend and your teacher was also there, you probably wouldn’t interact with your friend in the usual way – you’d adapt your behaviour in the presence of your teacher. Group chats can be treated in the same way: keep your tone both neutral and friendly because what you’re saying will be seen by everyone in the group.
Chartered psychologist Audrey Tang says this is where a messaging service’s tools can come in handy. If you’re worried a friend will wonder why you seem different all of a sudden, you could use the ‘reply’ function, which makes it clear which message you’re responding to. This allows you to chat to your friend in your usual, more familiar way.
How to avoid giving the wrong impression in a group chat
Just as it’s difficult to find the most appropriate tone when composing a message, it’s also wise to be careful about it when reading comments and replies in group chats.
As an experiment, look in the mirror and say ‘she was late to the party’ in a few different ways. You’ll see how even a simple statement can be made to sound factual, critical or sympathetic depending on how it’s delivered. Without visual and audible cues – the raising of an eyebrow, for example, or a raised, angry pitch on ‘late’ – it’s much harder to discern how to interpret that sentence.
In a group chat, this can quickly escalate if one person interprets a message negatively and responds accordingly. Suddenly the whole chat can become mean or defensive, which is tough if all that negativity is directed towards you. And even if it isn’t, it’s easy to feel powerless as to what to say in case your words unintentionally make things worse.
If you are finding a conversation distracting or upsetting, Audrey says that ‘using the mute will not only stop that constant “ping”, but also give you an opportunity to go back to the conversation and read through it at a later date. By that time, things are likely to have moved on and the pressure on you to be involved will have passed.’
Five tips for making group chats work for everyone involved
- Keep it real: Recognise that screens are no substitute for face-to-face interactions and build plenty of time with friends into your social life.
- Make introductions. Before adding someone to a group, ask permission from the others rather than just dropping their details into the participants list. Write a message welcoming them so everyone knows who they are and that they’ve joined the conversation.
- Be image conscious. Be aware of how you use emojis. The way pictograms are translated can change rapidly and they’re open to misinterpretation.
- Put feelings first. Avoid dismissing banter that hurts or embarrasses someone as ‘just a joke’. Validate their feelings by apologising for any upset caused.
- Take a break. Feel free to leave a chat if you’re uncomfortable. A white lie such as ‘my parents say I have to cut down on my screen time’ or ‘I have a test I need to revise for’ will reduce any awkwardness.
Read more about friendship and social etiquette in Teen Breathe issue 41.