How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

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Recently, a bulletin board I participate on had a thread that really made me think.  A colleague posted a copy of an email she’d received from a third colleague.  The email was basically an introduction, a brief explanation of the therapist’s practice, and concluded with an invitation to visit her website and hoping to receive referrals.  The string of comments that ensued were mostly, although not completely, negative.  But I was struck by how openly critical many of the folks who replied were.  And what was even more striking than people referring to the email as unprofessional was how quickly several of these professionals began to say hurtful and insulting things to each other.  Personally I always applaud emails like the one in question, as I think it takes guts to self-promote, but I accept that other people have variations in opinion.  What I had a harder time accepting is the negative quality of the discussion.

A related incident occurred over the past few weeks with my blog.  A colleague began emailing me after each blog pointing out typos or grammatical errors.  I was a bit surprised, but at least she was taking the time to read it.  The last email was a bit more frustrating, in that she started the email criticizing my latest post and then asked for free consultation!  Still, I replied with a brief and polite answer to her question.  I wasn’t expecting a thank you or anything, but I was really surprised at what happened next.  When I posted a note to a listserv I am on with a link to my next blog post, which said, “You may find this blog post of interest,” she posted to the listserv saying simply, “No Mike.”

I tell you these two incidents to remind you that every time you post anything with colleagues you are also building your online presenceEverything we read tells us something about you. If you post something sarcastic you let us know that you are sarcastic.  If you post something clinically astute we know you are clinically astute.  When you post an article link you tell us that you are keeping abreast of research, as well as your areas of interest.  When you post online about a patient you tell us that you talk about your patients online.  And when you don’t play well with others you tell us about how it might be to collaborate with you on a case.

If you are mindful of this and are doing things the way that is in keeping with your professional style and identity, great.  There are lots of different ways to be in the world.  My point is to make sure you are mindful about how you are presenting yourself, because your online presence is everything out here!

Sometimes I get the impression that the same sense of narcissistic invulnerability we acquire when we get behind the wheel of our car happens when we get online.  We feel protected by a sense of anonymity and the asynchronous communication.  We say things that we might never say to the colleague’s face if we were in the same room.  We sacrifice sensitivity for the opportunity to seem witty or clever in front of our peers, even if it hurts someone.  We forget there are people behind the screens, or we decide we don’t care.  I am sure I have done it too, nobody is perfect.  But please think about what you are doing, because it can be really detrimental to building your business.

Take a look at the last 5 posts you made out here in Web 2.0.   What do they say about you?  If they were the only things a potential colleague or patient knew about you what might they think?  How do you want to be remembered?


  1. Hi Mike, this is very interesting and chimes with thoughts I have been having recently. I agree that there is something falsely insulating about putting up comments online – it is from the comfort of one’s home or office (isolated or protected as in a car). And yet how easy it is to have an accident. As easy online as it is on the road.

    I was driving today to teach a yoga class when a woman turned out just as I passed the road she was in. I screeched to a halt and she stopped too and fortunately she didn’t hit me. I was shocked out of my bubble, perhaps so was she. She stopped reluctantly to confer and explain that a truck had blocked her view. I asked for her details because I was so shaken I felt I needed to recheck my car for damage at a later, calmer point in time. She refused and rolled up her window going back into her bubble. She said ‘I’m not telling you who I am, there’s no damage’, so I said ‘if there’s no damage then why won’t you tell me who you are?’ to which she most reluctantly agreed to write down her name and address.

    You can have a collision on-line with someone, you can disagree with them – but it’s finding an acceptable way to put forth your views and as you say, it’s important to remember an online exchange is a human dialogue.

    It is interesting the way not using one’s real or entire name can give a feeling of invulnerability, and a licence to behave in ways that would otherwise be considered unacceptable. If I don’t tell you who I am then if I’ve hit your car you can’t get back at me – or if I don’t tell you who I am and I’ve made a sarcastic comment online, then I’m safe.

    Just as interesting to me are the people I know who choose to behave in dubious ways online. I have certainly had these experiences on my blog. I have found people I know stand out in starker perspective through their online comments – a whole other avenue to explore. But I’ve gone on rather too long here – but just wanting to endorse the views you put forward. I have written about friends’ responses to blogging on my blog in a post called Blogging and Friendship that says more about this.

  2. Mike, great points. I have to say that this type of negativity and rude behavior (for that is what it is when someone blatantly says “No, we’re not interested in your post” ouch) seems unique to mental health professionals interactions online. I belong to a number of forums in the marketing, small business and other health care professions and i have NEVER encountered the inappropriateness I encounter in MH circles.

    The going etiquette online is this: “If you have nothing nice to say (or worse,something not nice to say) say NOTHING.’ Because if you don’t like what you read, you can stop reading. Online negativity, sarcasm, whining, nit picking and disagreeableness makes you look like a negative sarcastic, whiny, nit picky disagreeable person…or as the rest of the world refers to these people – an ass.

    It’s a reputation killer and will destroy a business in one comment. Based on comments I see on some of my MH list servs I eliminate referral sources, rather than add them. Who wants to work with a therapist who says rude, mean things online?? It demonstrates lack of self awareness,empathy and social intelligence. Not someone I want to recommend.

    You can never go wrong with being respectful, professional and kind – online and off. And if you don’t like what the other person is writing…click away and read something that’s more your style.

  3. Jim Finley says

    Yes, none of us are perfect, and no doubt we all slip and say or do needlessly ugly things at times – it’s just basic people skills to try to avoid that, though, and basic decency to go back and make amends when we realize we’ve done it.
    It does pay off (although it would still be the right thing to do regardless) – not only in relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, but in the kinds of people our children grow up to be, influenced by our examples, and also in relationships with clients. There have been a couple of times when I said something thoughtless that really hurt a client – in one case the client got furious; the other started crying. In both cases I apologized and told them that my words had been a reflection on me, not on them, and that I understood their anger and hurt and would have felt the same way in their places.
    Although I don’t recommend it, in both cases it not only saved but strengthened those therapeutic relationships – one in particular, a teenager, said a lot of people had said hurtful things to her, but none of them had ever apologized or acknowledged being wrong before, and it was her first experience of someone seeing her as important enough to have feelings and rights. The other, an elderly gentleman, said that regardless of my imperfections as a therapist, it increased his respect and trust in me as a person.

  4. Jim Finley says

    PS When I said I don’t recommend it, I meant that I don’t recommend making thoughtless remarks, not that I don’t recommend apologizing when we do!
    Thanks for this topic.

  5. Charlie Voter says

    Good thoughts and something we should keep in mind before posting. Keep up the good work/fun.

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