How to Be a Lady Online—What Our Parents Couldn’t Teach Us

By Gabriella van Rij, speaker, author & activist for Kindness

Have you ever wanted to quit social media? At times, when I see the awful things people say to each other, it makes me want to throw my hands up in the air!

A prime example is when Beyoncé took her four-year-old daughter to the VMAs earlier this year. Social media erupted with people commenting on the looks of this little girl. Most of the people who called this little girl ugly were women! What is wrong with us women that we call little girls of four years old ugly?

When we see a woman in a dress we don’t like, we hear something ridiculous in a video, or we read someone’s post we dislike and we jump the gun, we don’t take a moment to think… We simply REACT to what it is that we think the other should have done or said! And we post our catty remarks and unfiltered opinions for the world to see. Because we believe we are right and it is up to us to set them straight! This is what we do, day after day, at work, in our personal lives with our husbands or partners and children…

Our parents did not grow up with social media; so nobody taught us what online etiquette looks like or how to learn to navigate our online social world properly. We all know and remember what it was like to learn to drive a car. There are regulations that are for the safety of the other passengers. But when we sign up for all these social media apps, nobody knows the rules of conduct, so we use these platforms not only to express our opinions but also to vent our anger and frustrations of our everyday lives. As a result, online platforms can become a source of great hurt and even torment. People leave cruel comments in the heat of the moment as an outlet for the pain in their own lives.

Now, I am not going to say all technology is good or bad. I personally love the fact that I am able to talk with someone a world away and reconnect with them through social media. That is fantastic! But I do see the need for us to be a bit kinder to ourselves and others, both online and off.

You may wonder if there is even a place for this as a business woman in today’s world… My answer is yes! My motto is #DareToBeKind, and I always say, “Kindness only grows more Kindness.” No, kindness is not weakness, it shows you have strength.

Behaving like a lady online might sound old-fashioned, but really it comes down to simple respect for yourself and others—which are cornerstones that will never be outdated. We have all been guilty of saying things online that we shouldn’t have. Perhaps because it feels removed from saying that thing to a person’s face. But careless words, whether online or off, can hurt for a lifetime.

If you want to brush up on your online etiquette, here are 4 simple steps that will help you behave with grace and class:

Step 1: Don’t use social media as a source of validation.

We often turn to social media for validation. We want people to agree with our take on things because we want to excuse our behavior, our thoughts, or our actions. But looking for validation from social media is not a good source because often people will only agree with your take on things and not help you come up with a solution.

If you had a bad day at the office, call up one good friend instead of venting to your coworkers and friends on social media. You will feel better by having that one phone call with a good friend than however many status likes you get. The next time you’re very upset, take a moment to think about who you turn to for validation. Do you want someone who will just agree with your take on the situation? Or someone who could help give you a shift in your perception?

Aside from that, venting on social media can ruin the image of professionalism that people look for when deciding who to work with. Don’t use social media as a place to vent or to refresh yourself. If you know you need a boost mentally, emotionally, or physically, start with taking care of yourself. Pay yourself a compliment, and mean it! Acknowledge your feelings of tiredness, and do something away from your gadgets to get refreshed.

Step 2: Answer rudeness with kindness.

That person who responds curtly in an email. That weird comment online. Your co-worker who is being impatient: Take a moment to step back and think about the emotion that is motivating their behavior, which will help curb your own reactive tendencies and prevent you from being reactive in your response. Communicate to their emotion instead of reacting. And this goes for all our interactions with everyone, not only our interactions online.

Use co-workers’ rudeness as a reminder to you to be kind and gracious in your replies and communications. Try to see the situation for what it is before jumping into a reactive state.

When someone is being rude, don’t sink low yourself. If you live in a reactive state, you are living your life for others, not yourself. Make kindness your choice in all your interactions, online or off.

Step 3: Watch your delivery.

Often, people think kindness is about saying things you don’t mean, or telling everyone they are beautiful. This is not true! It’s about your delivery. When communicating online, this is even more important because there is an absence of facial cues and body language to help convey what you want to say.

The example I give in my third book, Watch Your Delivery, illustrates this clearly: Two young women are texting each other. The first girl texts to her friend, “Are we still on for tonight?” Her friend replies, “Of course! Did you find something better to do? I was already putting on my make-up.” Probably friend #1 did not mean to make it sound like she wanted to bail, but that was the inadvertent impression that friend #2 got while reading her text messages.

Text messages are difficult to understand because everything is abbreviated. We jump to conclusions because (a) we do not understand the text, (b) all the emojis and abbreviations make for a guessing game, and (c) since we cannot see the facial expressions or the body language of the other texter, this adds to the confusion of the message.

I always suggest that you re-read a comment or email before posting on social media. Not only will you catch typos that way, but you will also give yourself the opportunity to filter out unnecessary words and phrases that could be misconstrued.

Step 4: Praise kindness and class when you see it.

With all the negativity aired on social media, you can stand out by sharing and commenting on the good. When someone posts an encouraging post for someone else, acknowledge their thoughtfulness. When you see people respond in a positive way, praise their doing so. This will help you recognize more times when you can be doing the same.

The benefits? You can’t show kindness without feeling happier and lighter in your mind and body as a result. I can even prove it! When you receive a kindness from another, how does that make you feel? My guess is your day feels brighter, you feel less alone in the world, and you feel sturdier on the inside because that one deed has given you an emotional buffer against life’s annoyances. Studies have proven there is a correlation between the action of kindness and the emotion of happiness.

Now imagine giving all those good feelings to someone else through a thoughtful comment, a kind message, a cheery text. When you sprinkle a little bit of happiness on someone else’s day through kind words, texts, messages, you can’t help but get that happiness on yourself too. I dare you to show someone a kindness and not feel happier yourself!

May I leave you with one last thought? We all love to be the recipient of kindness – whether food, gifts, or money – but we hesitate when it comes to giving it. However, kindness is the only free thing we have to give.



The leading voice of the Kindness movement, Gabriella van Rij [pronounced “ray”] is a speaker, author & activist for kindness whose presentations blend humor, original analogies and her life story to create a rare perspective-shifting experience that speaks to all and that provides the tools audiences need for more productive relationships. Gabriella has been seen by millions on Dr. Phil, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.  Watch Your Delivery is her third and latest book on the secrets to effective communication. Book Gabriella for a speaking engagement or request an interview: Email: Toll free number: 1.844.888.KIND (5463)

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Advancing Women

Advancing Women