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Let respect, courtesy guide Facebook interaction

By Thelma Domenici
Of the Journal
          Dear Thelma: I like Facebook. My husband does not. He thinks it is rude to prowl around among people's personal information, photos and conversations. I say if they've accepted me as a Facebook friend and put it out there for my consumption, it's not rude of me to look at it. What do you think?
        A: Facebook, the social networking site that has quickly become a part of our culture, is designed as a place for people to put their information, photos and conversations out there. As you say, they've given you permission, so it isn't rude for you to observe them there.
        Where the rudeness may come in is in the way people use their own Facebook pages and in what they post on other's walls. The perils of less-than-thoughtful Facebook use show up all the time as people experience the growing pains of embracing a new technology. Facebook users have been disciplined at their jobs when irresponsible posts are viewed by superiors. Relationships on many levels have been damaged by careless posts or rash comments.
        So be thoughtful in all your communications and be careful when sharing. If you aren't discriminating in who you accept into your Facebook world, it's likely that many of your social connections will collide there. That includes your high school acquaintances, your relatives, your current friends, your significant other, your boss, your children and someone who requested friendship and has similar Facebook friends but you're really not sure you know. If you've allowed all those people to converge on your Facebook page, it's important that your behavior there — and even the behavior of these "friends" — meet the highest level expected. It's also important to realize that comments you make on other's walls or photos could be seen by anyone viewing their site, so comment accordingly.
        Although online social networking is meant for fun and sharing, be sure that the respect and courtesy that guide your face-to-face relationships find a home on Facebook, too.
        Dear Thelma: I work in an office of about 30 people. Of course there are groups of friends within that larger group. Some of them love to use work break times to gossip about others in the office. They have no care or concern over who hears them or if the derogatory stories make it back to the subject of their gossip. It makes me uncomfortable. What is the best way to squelch office gossip around the proverbial water cooler?
        A: Habitual gossip is a prevalent problem and is very harmful in a work environment. Some people really thrive on gossip. It's what gets them through the day, like a cup of coffee or a candy bar in the afternoon. But gossip easily turns into critical judgment of others, and that affects the morale of everyone. Ending it may hinge on a principled person's reaction to the gossip while it is taking place.
        As an individual, you must first make a conscious decision that you won't participate in gossip, then stick to that decision and act accordingly. I think that by your example you can speak loudly. When gossip begins, walk away or say, "I don't wish to participate in this conversation."
        Don't allow gossip to take the place of respect and trust in the workplace. Healthy work environments do not promote gossip, so be comfortable in making a conscious decision to make your feelings about gossip known. Whatever you do or say, express yourself calmly and politely.
        Taking a stand in this area takes courage, but it is necessary to build a healthy work environment, where good manners never go out of style.
        Have a question about etiquette? You can ask it at www.askthelma.com. Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.

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