The problem with the written word is that it is so easy to be misunderstood. I fall into this group, whether it be my posts, twits or emails.

How do you deal with being misunderstood online? What do you do to ensure that you are not misunderstood in emails/blog posts/twits?

One thing I have started doing is using emoticons. I find them really important in helping to communicate tone maybe the 14yr IM loving Julian Cole was onto something.


Matt M said...

I've just kind of become resigned to it. We often fail to communicate in a rich-cue, multi-sensory environment like F2F - so what chance do we have online?

For me the challenge is not to prevent others from misunderstanding me but rather to read others with care.

Are they really saying what I think they are saying?

Easier said than done.

Kate Richardson said...

So true Jules.

Then again I often feel like I put my foot in it in real life too.

I resist emoticons because of their cheesy nature and the way people employ them willy nilly - often in a passive aggressive manner.

Nothing more irritating than a rude email signed off with a smiley face.

Wait maybe they weren't being rude after all?

Yep it's difficult to tell.

Annik said...

I reckon a well placed exclamation mark can sometimes really help! Eg if I said "Have a great day, Julian." - what a bitch! I would use that full stop to convey my sarcasm, as I actually want you to have a totally shitty day. But if I say "Have a great day, Julian!" I mean it.

I use emoticons too, but if it's in work-related email correspondence, I'll wait for the other person to use one first.

ChloeRobot said...

I may be old school. But if I get the feeling that my emails are being misunderstood - I pick up the phone or arrange a real life / face to face meeting

Anonymous said...

I believe in treating online comms like a serious professional communication until you actually know the person. Or, in the case of Twitter, you're expressing personal views, at which point you're eventually going to annoy someone anyway.

We're going to be misunderstood online - there's no body language to be able to discern the underlying emotion of a message. Using emoticons can only go so far - as Kate said, passive aggressive much?

If we get misunderstood, nip it in the arse straight away - pick up the phone and call the person, or drop them a DM/email and explain your position / ask to talk. There's no point in letting something fester that can be fixed with a five second "Oops, my bad!" phone call.

There's a human at the other end of that keyboard. If you can't fix it online, take it offline.

Matt M said...

Adam - That assumes the other person will pick up the phone!

I remember an escalating row with a former boss. I tried calling him. No reply. So I sent him an email saying "call me". Eventually we sorted it out. Turned out he was working from home with his baby son and didn't want to wake him up with a phone call!!!

Good job it didn't end in fisty-cuffs, he's built like a brick ****house.

Anonymous said...

Have spent a bit of time over the last 40 mins trying to figure out if a Twitter reply was posted due to a misinterpretation of my tweet, or if I am now misinterpreting the reply. I get far too analytical and easily confused after big weekends.

Great timing of this post though. In fact a little eerie.

Ben Shepherd said...

if there's a danger something will be misunderstood i pick up the phone as most often it's easier to have a dialogue and not run into that issue. most digital comms channels - email/IM - my responses are under 10 words as it's more directions or yes/no.

It's another thing to worry about that gets in the way about worrying about more important things like dinner and the footy.

Anonymous said...

@Matt - Too true. Either they're too busy (eg. don't wake the baby) to pick up the phone, or it's gotten to the point where they're pissed off and "refuse to talk to you". Yet they'll still send emails...? It's subjective anonymity via keyboard. There should be a psychological condition for that.

XKCD gets it: http://xkcd.com/386/

A misunderstanding soon becomes more about your crisis management and conflict resolution abilities than having to explain what you meant.

AKTIFMAG said...

When I write you're a fuckhead, I mean it in bubbly way.

Craig Thomler said...

I find that the phone or face-to-face are the best antidotes to online confusion.

Remember back to the days of written correspondence and memos?

What you got on paper came without emoticons and often in very formal language.

The misunderstandings today due to email are no different to what it was like back them - it just all happens much faster and with less reflection time.

Zac Martin said...

Tell me about it Jules. If I didn't know you after you'd said, "Do you really hate traditional media? It seems like you have been picking up a few tactics from traditional media Who Weekly, such as sensationalism", I would want to punch you in the dick. =P

I am finding this problem increasingly. Not only do I tend to write posts short and with as little words as possible... people have trouble gauging my tone IRL let alone online.

Twitter is even harder because rarely can you put any context to it.

12 months ago I would never had put an emoticon in a post, but your terrible grammar, punctuation and spelling helped me relax some of my stricter rules which I think has certainly helped. ;]

Stanley Johnson said...

WARNING: Old person in the area!

When I first became a copywriter we often wrote copy by hand. With a pen and paper. Agencies had a copy secretary whose job was typing up the copy.

Back then very few people, especially clients, had a typewriter on their desk. Why? Because the only people who needed one were typists, obviously, and people who could write. Copywriters, journalists etc.

Today everyone (and I do mean everyone) has a contemporary typewriter on their desk. It's called a computer. And because the computer has a keyboard, everyone who has one thinks they can write. Especially clients.

So perhaps the reason your post has attracted so many comments, from people in a similar situation to you, is because none of you are true writers.

This is not meant as a criticism.

I love each and everyone of you and your blogs and your tweets. But what I love isn't your ability to write, it's your ability to express yourself.

As for emoticons, if you feel the need to have to use them to make your point clearly, perhaps you should go and do a writing course of some sort. If it helps you communicate clearly, it could well be the best money you ever spend.

acatinatree said...

Totally agree; while I theoretically despise the use of emoticons, I use them all the time because my (stock in trade) sarcasm simply comes across as rude or aggressive without a little emoticon-based softening. And you know how I hate to be rude ;-) (see what I did there?) Stan, sorry, but I disagree - of course you can make your meaning clear in a blog /email, a format like Twitter requires different rules -140 characters simply doesn't offer space for such clarification.

Stanley Johnson said...

Without wishing to get into a debate with acatinatree, I have made 2,856 tweets over the last 96 days. All of them clear and easy to understand. End of story.