It happened to me two nights ago. An email FAIL. It certainly wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. But how do we avoid these routine misunderstandings? How do we up the clarity as we text and chat and email?
This comment reminded me how common it is to hope to communicate A, instead to say B, and then to think C was understood by the recipient of the message.
And who knows… Maybe your intended reader understood B, intuited A or interpreted D, E, and F!
Struggling with that alphabet soup?
Writing on the Run: Missing, Dissing and Dismissing
My, but language gets tricky — especially when we rush. And isn’t that what we’re doing when we blog (on the run), tweet (in the heat of the moment), text (in dreaded shorthand), and email (as we multitask)?
We miss nuance. We blur boundaries. We say too little or too much. Or, we simply say it poorly. And let’s not forget this: We may convey our meaning brilliantly, and still be misunderstood.
As for the comment in question, it explains (clearly) the pitfalls of relying solely on the written word in a rapid-fire medium. More importantly, the commenter zeroes in on a skillset few of us have noted much less mastered, namely, “listening in a virtual world.”
… Although I think I am a pretty good listener in person… in some recent e-mail conversations I have given myself some unpleasant reminders about how hard this is to do when the medium is text rather than voice. In each case I mistakenly felt called to do something and stepped on my shoelaces by responding too quickly. Although I thought I had thoroughly absorbed what I was responding to, and considered my answers, I had major revelations after pressing Send… I would have been better off waiting to respond… Although I have been well aware of how much is lost by the absence of body language and verbal cues, I have new appreciation for what listening means in the virtual world.
Listening in a virtual world. Oh the simplicity of that expression! Oh, the complexity of accomplishing it, and what it may entail.
Does listening in a virtual world require extraordinary care until we understand exactly who we’re dealing with? Does it demand that we be informed of the other person’s emotional state? Is context king, and absent context, then what? Are we back to exercising exceptional care, or do we throw caution to the wind and take our best shot?
My own most recent incident?
It was in a simple conversation in an email “chat,” in discussion with someone I don’t know well. His intended levity was lost on me, and my response — quizzical — was taken as dismissal. Cue my confusion, his consternation, and a colossal communication FAIL.
Now, in this example, there were no terrible consequences. Still, I hate to think of anyone feeling burned by something I said, especially when I was only seeking a clarification.
If in a social setting, you might suggest the use of an emoji. But what if we dislike emojis? What if a goofy smile or directional thumb is utterly inappropriate?
Slow… Down… Now…
So what do we do? How do we avoid these periodic snafus that occur with strangers, acquaintances, friends, loved ones, contacts, customers, prospects, and bosses? Other than possessing extraordinary writing skills sufficient to capture what we normally understand through voice and gesture, how can we avoid the pitfalls of this type of exchange?
If nothing else, would it help if we slowed down just a little?
- Remember the old standby: “Think before you speak.”
- Reread before you hit Send (or you’ll be sending OOPS).
- Make a judgment call: Sometimes text is not appropriate.
- Pick up the phone! Face time! Hop on Skype! Get together in person!
And now, for the Perspective Portion of Our Program… Consider how often your texts, emails and other “flat” communications work perfectly well. And that’s most of the time for most of us, don’t you think?
How to Avoid a Communication FAIL
As for my own verbal deficiencies in this arena, the rule of listen first, talk second still applies. There may be clues in what isn’t said (or written), what came before (or not), the shortness of phrases, the typos, the unusual diction, the run-on sentences… Yikes! The art of teading people just got more difficult!
My misinterpretations — and possibly yours — are fewer when I’m not tired or stressed, when the person and I know each other well, and when our roles and relationship are clear and well established.
But even that is no guarantee. Sometimes our best intentions are simply not conveyed no matter what we say, where we are, how we say it, or standing face to face.
That’s when patience, maturity and again, judgment come calling. To make things right, or at least better, by trying again.
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