WhatsApp eh? A brilliant way to communicate cheaply with your loved ones, or is it the chink in your armour that you’ve failed to notice?

Remember in the good old days, before t’internet, we used to meet up with various groups of friends, have a chat over a coffee or a pint, put the world to right then just get on with our days? If somebody had upset us at work, we’d sneak off to a discrete corner, take a lunchtime stroll, have a good old bitch (or cry), and then return to work in a better emotional place having had a cathartic release?

Nowadays these essential and much-needed forms of human interaction tend to happen online. From parents’ WhatsApp groups to neighbourhood ones, from family groups through to randomers you met on a Hen weekend. . . we are inundated with mini online tribes that I guess give us a sense of belonging.

However, have you ever really stopped and observed how the dynamic of each of your groups works? Some groups are naturally benign. They’re functional, giving you the relevant information that you need, not giving you any space for comment.

Then there are the more informal groups – in these, you’re likely to find the usual mix of people you’d find in your social group, the bossy one, the irreverent one, the negative one, the organiser etc. However, all of the usual types are magnified online, because the throwaway statement that you’d just ignore in real life, seems a lot more weighted when it’s left online for you to see every time you go back to the group.

Group dynamics are weird at the best of times, and learning to navigate your way around them feels like a lifelong learning curve. However if we don’t acknowledge the impact of these groups, we run the risk of getting more pissed off with things than maybe we need to.

As an example, in one group that I’m in there is nothing but negative feedback. Literally, people’s anxiety spilling out all over the place. When anybody challenges that energy, or notes that maybe it would be healthier to find workarounds to the problems (or to be solution focussed), they are shot down in a blaze of vitriol. The classic belief of “it’s healthy to share as I feel better for having said it”, or “at least I’m not the only one that feels this way”, implying that the anger/resentment/sadness or whatever is dissipated by reading that others feel the same. Of course in reality it does nothing of the sort – it simply amplifies and somehow justifies your own annoyance.

In other words, if you find yourself in a group which is a feeding ground for moans and groans, think about muting that discussion for a while. If you’re as unhappy as the rest of them, do something about it. Speak to the people that are creating the issues for you. Don’t just fan the flames from the sidelines.

Have you noticed the people that always moan seldom do anything about it? They simply wind everybody else up and hope that somebody else will deal with the issue.

You see the reality is that some people just like moaning. They will never be the people that will look for a solution. They’re happy being unhappy. They’re not consciously recruiting you onto the side of negative energy, but their voice can feel so powerful in the group that you end up “joining in” anyway.

Or take the particularly anxious person in a group (sometimes it’s one and the same as the person above). The one that will ask a leading question just to “share their anxiety” with you. They always write the sentence that lands a bit later with you, as their seed of doubt somehow gets surreptitiously planted in your own thinking pattern, and takes on a life of its own hours later.

Once you’ve spotted the anxious one, the negative one, the controlling one, you’ll slowly start to naturally filter out the unhelpful conversations, and just zone into the ones that are important to you, or the ones that enhance your life.

Having a small “tribe on your phone” has a lot more power than you probably realised, and don’t forget, you can now leave a group with nobody really knowing. You’re welcome