Not so long ago, talking to more than one friend at a time meant you needed to either be physically in the same room or on a three-way call connected to a landline. Now, I'm willing to bet you've shot off a relatable GIF to your designated group chat within the last 24 hours. Text messaging and conversation platforms like What's App and Facebook Messenger are pretty much as vital as your daily matcha latte.
In a recent Facebook survey, 65 percent of participants said messaging has made group communication easier. And while that ease is just one of the many benefits, our rampant use raises the question: Is this constant back-and-forth strengthening friendships? Or does the quick access to our friends hurt bonding time IRL?
Here's a look at the potential pitfalls associated with getting too deep into group chats, and how to make sure yours isn't headed into harmful territory.
Keep scrolling for expert tips for keeping your group chats in check.
Use group messaging for support
At their best, group chats help us feel supported, something Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD, says comes in handy when you're gearing up for a big change in your life. "In a matter of seconds, we can rally our cheerleaders to wish us luck before that big interview or to coo over the latest baby picture," she says. "If you arrive at an interview early and need a pep talk, instead of calling or texting one friend you can immediately get multiple responses of reassurance and enthusiasm. You might even send a selfie before you leave for the interview to get tips on appropriate attire. There's power in numbers, especially when we're looking for love and support."
"There's power in numbers, especially when we're looking for love and support."
Be cautious when asking for advice
But asking a group for their opinion via chat can also backfire—especially when a personal matter turns into a topic for debate. "In a group setting, it's not uncommon for many to jump on the bandwagon and agree with the strongest 'voice' in the group," Dr. Hakim explains. And you better believe this holds true in a texting convo as much as a face-to-face one.
Whether you're the person who asked for advice or are against the advice being offered, Dr. Hakim says sending a text summarizing the pros of both sides can help ease the tension in the moment. But there could also be real life ramifications to these types of disputes. "You expect true friends to have your back in person and in a group chat or social media setting," she says. "If a disagreement starts, clearly state that you are happy to discuss the issue, but that a group chat is not the place. Then move the dialogue outside of the group chat setting."
Keep the chat relevant to everyone
Group chats are a place to talk to all of your friends about shared interests, life updates, and upcoming plans. But if one or more members can't make it to the night out you're planning or don't care about whatever show you're discussing at length, they can start to feel left out, which could potentially cause real-life rifts. (Or at least be super annoying.)
If one or more members can't make it to the night out you're planning or don't care about whatever show you're discussing at length, they can start to feel left out.
"If everyone in your group chat is going to a party that you opted out of because your ex will be there, reading about every detail can be hurtful and make you uncomfortable," says Dr. Hakim. "It might increase your anxiety because you may read the messages even more frequently to not miss anything, which can make you feel worse because you're not a part of it."
Dr. Hakim says that this lack of consideration can trickle into the next IRL hangout. "You may feel even more left out of in-person conversations, especially if the group is still discussing the event." So, plan your night out on a separate chat, and consider starting a side chat to discuss your Bachelor picks with only the friends that care.
Be mindful of other people's schedules
If your group chat is pinging all day long but your schedule doesn't allow for time to diligently read and respond, it can start to stir up feelings of resentment. "A decision might be made in the group chat that affects you and you may not get a say because you don’t have time to check the messages," Dr. Hakim explains. "You may feel that you are less important to the group or that your opinion isn’t needed or considered."
Participants in a study were brought into a group text convo that stopped abruptly. They became paranoid that the others were continuing the chat somewhere else—and that they were being purposely excluded.
On the flip side, if one person has more time to contribute than others, the lack of responses can make them feel undervalued as well. In a study on text-message exclusion, participants were brought into a group text convo that stopped abruptly. The participants became paranoid that the others were continuing the chat somewhere else—and that they were being purposely excluded.
"Realize that due to work and other obligations, not everyone will respond promptly to every ping," says Dr. Hakim. "Pick up the phone or text someone privately if you need to hear from them quickly and don’t notice their response in the group chat."
If you don't have the bandwidth to keep up with every group chat thread, Dr. Hakim suggests posting every day or so to show support. "Say something like, 'I haven’t had time to read all the messages yet, but I think…' to alert the group that you may be out of the loop but still want to contribute," she says. "Enlist the help of an active group chat friend. Ask her to text you if there's something that you should respond to quickly. You won’t feel obligated to check the group chat all the time, but can still remain a part of important group discussions."
If all of this is stress-inducing, might I suggest a digital detox from time to time? There are scientific reasons that show an occasional break from your phone may be worth it. Just be sure to plan your group brunch or workout before you unplug, lest you miss all the details.
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