With the growing prevalence of technologies and virtual forums like instant messaging, texting and social media, on-screen communication is almost replacing face-to-face dialogue.

This is according to Helene Vermaak, principal consultant at The Human Edge, who says that research by international partner VitalSmarts indicates that social networks are becoming increasingly hostile. In fact, 78% of respondents report rising incivility online and two in five admit to blocking, unsubscribing, or “unfriending” someone due to an argument they had via social media.

“Social media has enabled us to link with people in and out of our social circles and ultimately develop relationships in ways that weren’t possible before,” says Vermaak. “But as with all new things, etiquette and rules around how to use these platforms haven’t caught up with the massive growth in usage.”

Vermaak suggests that it’s time that we all followed a few simple rules to ensure that crucial conversations held via social media remain informal, but are respectful.

She quotes eight tips from VitalSmarts for holding crucial conversations via social media:

* Check your motives. Social media hasn’t only changed the way we communicate, it has modified our motives. Ask yourself, “Is my goal to get lots of ‘likes’ (or even provoke controversy)?” or “Do I want healthy dialogue?”

* Use the four-times rule. Since others can’t see or hear you; realise they’ll amplify the emotion of anything you write fourfold.

* Write it twice. Before posting your comments, re-read your message and ask yourself, “How might someone misunderstand my intent?” Then re-write it to ensure your true feelings come across.

* Replace hot words. If your goal is to make a point rather than score a point, replace “hot” words that provoke offense with words that help others understand your position. For example, replace “that is idiotic” with “I disagree for the following reasons …”

* Pause to put emotions in check. Never post a comment when you’re feeling emotionally triggered. If you wait four hours you’re likely to respond differently.

* Agree before you disagree. It’s fine to disagree, but don’t point out your disagreement until you acknowledge areas where you agree. Often, arguers agree on 80% of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20%.

* Trust your gut. When reading a response to your post and you feel the conversation is getting too emotional for an online exchange – you’re right. Stop. Take it offline. Or better yet, face-to-face.

* Apologies take twice as long. If, in the end, you’ve offended someone, “sorry” isn’t nearly long enough. Express your remorse in an extended enough form to demonstrate your sincerity.

Vermaak adds that recently there have been a number of celebrity faux pas in the social media space.

“Perhaps if they had applied the above guidelines they would not be finding themselves in these awkward situations.”