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6 Better Ways to Share

To be blunt, people do not always want to hear your problems.

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Some people need a better verbal filter. They blurt out their first reaction before careful consideration, sparking concern about their maturity and social awareness. The art of self-disclosure is honed by experience in social interactions. According to social penetration theory, increased self-disclosure can foster greater intimacy with another person. If one never learned the rules governing self-disclosure, they can learn the skill through a recent study about social networks and personal revelation.

German media researcher Sonja Utz (2015) explored whether self-disclosure on Facebook makes people feel as close as it does in real life, since there are key differences on the platform. For example, there is no immediate response after one reveals something intimate on Facebook as there is in face-to-face interactions. Facebook may encourage inauthenticity, as well. Previous research on Facebook messages suggest that people prefer to publicly project positive, entertaining images to feel more connected to their online network, even if it does not accurately reflect their feelings.

According to Utz, people who post cheerful status updates to their online audience might use private messages to let their true friends know how they really feel, allowing them to expand and deepen these relationships just as they would if they were with those people on a day-to-day basis.

To test the relation between different types of status updates to individuals' sense of connectedness, she asked an online sample to rate how they felt in response to public updates and private messages with various amounts of self-disclosure. Low self-disclosure updates are light and humorous, perhaps commenting on the antics of a pet; high self-disclosure updates tell the world about someone's very bad day. Private messages, similarly, can be high or low in self-disclosure. If these operate the same way as real-life interactions do, then high self-disclosure messages should promote feelings of connectedness.

Surprisingly, though, the research found that only private messages high in self-disclosure served the intimacy-promoting function predicted by social penetration theory. According to Utz, “there is a hidden side of Facebook” (p. 8) which allows friends to simulate how they would converse in real time. For public messages, people feel more connected to their networks only after posting their own high self-disclosing messages but not after reading the high self-disclosing posts of others. Similarly, readers of high-disclosure posts may have felt less connected to the ones who posted them.

Personal takeaways

According to the findings, to be blunt, people browsing through Facebook updates do not want to hear about your problems, preferring to keep things light and funny to build more connections. Sharing funny stories has the added benefit, according to the "capitalization effects theory," of increasing the positive feelings you have with others since laughing can benefit intimacy.

In the context of a private message, however, it is permissible to reveal true inner feelings and confide in a friend. The Utz study suggests that your relationship benefits from reserving your private feelings for those closest to you. Using this as a guide, here are 6 tips to help you gauge how much to share:

  1. Your default option should be to keep it light (but not silly).
    The Utz study shows that people prefer messages that are entertaining. Start with these before confiding more somber reflections, if those are warranted at all.
  2. Know your audience.
    Though starting light is a good approach, take the temperature of those you are with before you proceed further. Be mindful of the social situation before sharing your deepest feelings.
  3. Do not self-indulge.
    Sometimes we say things to feel better, but might bore or even offend those around us. You may wish to recite a poem at the beginning of a meeting (because you like it), but your co-workers probably just want to get on with business.
  4. Stop and think before you speak.
    People without filters just blurt out their thoughts without reflecting on the effect of those thoughts when they are turned into words. Take a minute and decide if you really want to share, or if you should keep things to yourself.
  5. Pursue deeper relationships by deepening your self-disclosures.
    In the right circumstances, self-disclosure can be great. Do not hold back if you truly wish to bond.
  6. Listen to what your conversation partners are saying.
    Successful communication is based on people both talking and listening. Before you talk, make sure you understand what others have said. If you are not sure, ask.

Ultimately, sharing your true feelings with loved ones, whether in the virtual or real world, can build intimacy and develop relationships with potential for long-term fulfillment.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2015


Utz, S. (2015). The function of self-disclosure on social network sites: Not only intimate, but also positive and entertaining self-disclosures increase the feeling of connection. Computers In Human Behavior, 451-10. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.11.076