Image: 'Sunflower' wabberjocky
One of the main concerns that people have about the Internet is security of information, privacy and the effect of online behavior on professional reputation. This issue came up again when I was talking to a group of people taking part in the digital literacy research that I am involved with.
The concerns of a newbie blogger
One of the people who heard me talk about my experiences of blogging was really surprised at how open I was and how keen I was to share my thoughts. It appeared to her that I was not worried what people thought about me. To her, privacy was an issue. She was concerned about the consequences of saying something controversial or insensitive. Could the written word in a blog be used as evidence, especially in a legal case? What would happen if words were taken out of context or misconstrued?
Being honest and open
I have looked at this issue before, particularly in relation to what I write in my ePortfolio about my clinical midwifery practice. I have come to the conclusion that it is important to be transparent because it allows people to see the hows, wheres and whys of my learning.
I have made mistakes. Very recently I became embroiled in a wider flame war and wrote a post about another midwife. It was meant to be a generic comment on how health professionals behave online but reflecting back on it, I think I was out of order in what I wrote and how I said it. I know now that it was very hurtful to the person involved and for that I am deeply sorry. Whilst I cannot mend that hurt, I have taken on board some valuable lessons about the importance of being professional in the way I write this blog and how I comment (or not, as the case should probably be) about other people's behaviour. If I have any doubts about what I am about to post, I will ask for some sort of peer review before I hit the 'publish' button.
I do worry about what other people think, but I also believe in the importance of reflection and the shared learning that comes from reflection in an open environment.
Why should you be open about your mistakes?
Michele Martin has written a number of posts about this including 'Lets get naked', 'With Web 2.0, You Can Run, But You Can't Hide: Tools and Resources for Managing Your Online Reputation' and 'Is An Online Identity Necessary and What Should You Do to Maintain It?'. Michele feels it is important to be seen as " authentic" and to "present yourself as a multi-faceted human with strengths and weaknesses". Whilst it is probably not a good idea to be blogging about how drunk you got at the weekend, admitting to one's mistakes allows you to control what is said and how the message is put out. That degree of open honesty requires you to be truthful with yourself first, which Michele maintains helps one's own personal learning as well as contributes to the learning of others.
Does admitting to your mistakes damage your professional reputation?
Michele doesn't believe this is the case. Open discussion allows people to contribute to your learning by sharing advice, support and ideas. People are more likely to honour your honesty and come to like you because they see you as 'human' with human frailties.
This was highlighted by Nancy White, who is an extremely well known consultant who works as a facilitator of groups. Nancy admitted on her blog that she had made a mistake in one of her sessions. She blogged about it, reflected on what she did and recounted the lessons she learned from the incident. That was an amazing 'risk' for someone of Nancy's standing to take but if the responses to that post were anything to go by, people really appreciated her honesty, learned from it and value her work even more. I certainly feel I know her a lot better and feel a connection with her that was not there before.
Being a reflective practitioner
Being totally honest about clinical mistakes which may include life and death issues is problematic for health professionals. How I can talk about my clinical practice in an open environment in a way that keeps me safe as a professional, yet aids both my learning and that of my colleagues is something I still have not quite worked out. But, going back to the comments made by the newbie blogger, I do believe it is important to think about what you say and how you say it. I would not publish personal details of midwifery clients that I have looked after. And I have made a personal decision not to publish birth stories other than my own. But for me to be a reflective practitioner, it is equally as important to be able to talk about my mistakes as it is to talk about my successes.
How do you feel about this? How would you feel about talking about your mistakes online? Or do you feel that professionals (whatever profession) put their reputation at risk by doing this?
Image: 'Poppies in the Sunset on Lake Geneva' Pear Biter