If you have ever written an email or text message you will be able to relate to the following scenario; things are going great, you have a few exchanges back and forth and then, BAM! You read a line from a response just sent and think, “Is he mad at me?” You go back through your exchanges five, six, ten times trying to figure out where it all went wrong. Or did it go wrong at all? You wait a few minutes before sending another message, hoping your brain waves will simmer down a bit. What just happened?
What happened to you happens thousands of times each and every day, probably millions of times around the world, in every language known to man, ever since caveman drew hieroglyphics on cave walls. Text messages, emails (yes, hieroglyphics too) and the written word are very prone to misinterpretation. Couple that with life running by all of us a million miles an hour and we run the risk of having our tone misinterpreted. Diagnosis - Tone Prone.
When you speak to someone face to face you are able to read far more into the meaning of the message than words alone. Facial expressions, body language, emotions, vocal tone and loudness play significantly into the delivery of a message. Don’t discount the mood of the recipient either. Well intended messages falling upon a recipient in the wrong frame of mind can strike disaster. When you compose an email or hit the send button on a text message you are only providing one of many sources of information, the written word.
I’ll provide an easy example that will illustrate my point. See how many ways you can interpret this sentence. “Are you happy now?” Try saying aloud that same sentence but say it with empathy. Next, say it aloud as someone that has been disappointed. “Are you happy now?” Now, say it aloud sarcastically. Finally, say it as though you were someone that has just been hurt. For an added level of (mis)interpretation, do it in front of a mirror while mixing your delivery, facial expression and emotion. It easy to see how it can quickly get confusing.
Words alone carry very little emotion and they lack tone. If you are tone prone an entire email can be misread, because you are trying to figure out exactly what the author is trying to say, reading between every line.
So how can you counteract misinterpretations if you are tone prone? First of all, I truly believe that we all suffer in various degrees from being tone prone. That being said, here are some of the ways to prevent our emails and texts (and hieroglyphics) from being misread:
- Keep your emails to one subject. Too many subjects create too many opportunities for tone to go astray.
- Keep your sentences short and to the point.
- Keep your humor to a minimum if the recipient is not a close, personal contact.
- Reassure the recipient you are absolutely willing to answer questions about your message.
- Respond within a timely fashion. People may get irritated and read “into” your words if they feel as though it took you an unreasonable amount of time to respond.
- There is nothing better than face to face to resolve a problem.
- Do not start a conflict in writing. Even if you want to get something off your chest, it’s best to do that face to face or over the phone.
- Punctuate only when needed. Overusing exclamation points can create an issue.
- Don’t over react. Keep your head in the right zone. Chances are good that nothing is wrong. Running into someone else’s office, asking them to read the exchange, may not be the answer. If there truly is a problem, work it out directly with the source.
- Keep your emails and messages to one call to action. Your recipient is busy too and if your message or email has many layers to it, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed.
Your day is busy, why complicate it by adding additional work for yourself? See how your emails and text exchanges stack up to the guidelines above. Try to remember, less is better than more and people will appreciate your brevity, so they can get on with their day as well. There are apps on the market today that can check your tone, help balance your message and shape the true meaning of your words. Personally, I believe if you rely upon your gut and think twice before you hit Send, you will reduce the majority of misinterpretations. Be sure brain is engaged before putting Send button in gear.