{flickr photo by: Kat Cole}

How Easy it is to Misunderstand Each Other Online

I’ve gotten into a few misunderstandings lately and that’s just with my online friends. Words are powerful stuff. And when you take away external cues like smiles, nods and voice inflections, it is not just powerful, but potent.

When you are online, all a person can see is your words. So when you say, “It was good.” They may be interpreting it as:  “It WAS good! Or, “It was GOOD!” Or they may think you were being sarcastic or not very enthusiastic. There is only so much italics, bold lettering, smiley icons, and ! can do to emphasize what we are saying.

Who You Are in Real Life Could Be Very Different Than Who You Are Online

In person, I am very quiet. My voice is soft and I am a smiley type of person. I can get very emotionally expressive, but my voice never rises above a certain degree and sound. Believe me, my husband has more than once complained commented how soft my voice is even in a loud restaurant.

But online, my words can seem overpowering, as if I was a big giant touting my thoughts and opinions. I can come across as being insincere or dramatic or even critical, which is why I think it is so important to be careful and conscious about how we communicate online. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I am still learning!

Here are a few that may help you avoid miscommunication with your clients, friends and customers:

  1. Address the issue early. As soon as you notice that communication has gone awry, deal with it. If, for example, you have gotten the deadline mixed up in an email, make sure you contact the editor or client and confirm the deadline. Or if you notice tension brewing in an email or conversation via Facebook or Twitter, don’t wait until tension = hurt feelings. Contact the person right away to address it. Which brings me to #2.
  2. Switch from online to offline communication. If things are starting to get more and more unclear, it’s best to add a more direct line of communication. Call your editor. If you are in the area, ask to meet with a client in person. Sometimes having a face-to-face or even voice-to-voice interaction can eliminate some of the ambiguities that online interaction can bring.
  3. Sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding. I may have hurt people’s feelings along the way with a “short” short email. Although my intentions were good, I think it’s always important to apologize sincerely for the feeling that it left the receiver. There is a difference, however, with apologizing sincerely to someone who misunderstood something and apologizing to someone who continuously misunderstands and gets upset about things. Realize the difference and you will know which online relationships are worthy of continuing.
  4. Think really carefully about what you put out there. I sometimes reread something I write 3x’s and when I don’t, there are consequences. When you read what you write, make sure to think about what the other person might be thinking. Read it several times and think about someone who is sensitive reading this. Think about what it would be like if a stranger read what you wrote. Think about how you would feel if a friend read it. It might take more time to do so, but it will help eliminate bad feelings and miscommunication.
  5. Smile as you type. Sometimes if I am in a bad mood, my writing comes off sounding bad too. When I put myself in an energetic and enthusiastic mood (through music or exercise, e.g.), my writing comes off more uplifting, helpful and agreeable sounding. Smile and it might help to encourage more positive communication.

Do you have any tips that have helped you deal with online miscommunication or prevent miscommunication from occurring?

I found this post on Avoiding Online Miscommunication that might be helpful for you too.

  • Thanks for the recognition and backlink to the post on my blog. Body language, facial expressions and gestures compromise 60 – 80% of all face to face human communication. It’s those clues that we rely on to verify what words are spoken and to detect sincerity or lack thereof. In an online world we lack all of that so it’s extremely important that we make an effort to communicate clearly and not to fall into the projection trap.

  • brandiwplogin

    Thanks for your comment timethief! I was so impressed with your blog, I was hoping to contact you, but could not find an email address. As for your comment, I find it intriguing that 60-80% of all body language accounts for communication. How much more important it is for us to be cognizant of the impact of our written words on our readers.

  • Brandi-I ♥ your #2. One thing I noticed since I started freelancing is that for some reason many (not all) freelancers have an aversion to picking up the phone.

    I was exchanging emails with one of my favorite clients and I could see it was escalating. I didn’t really understand why so I picked up the phone. That quick call took all the heat away. My take was that my client was having a very stressful day (one of her staff quit, another was on maternity leave-there was a lot on my client’s plate).

    I just wrote a post on how I screwed up with a new client over a case study because I didn’t pick up the phone. It wasn’t that there was any anger involved. It simply would have been a better way to create more compelling copy the first time.

    So many things in life boil down to communication. Great post, as usual, Brandi.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Spokeo Touts Its 300 Million Profiles-Is Yours Back

  • brandiwplogin

    Hi Cathy!

    Thanks for your comment!! I really appreciate you sharing your story. I think it’s so easy to take things personally when we’re just communicating online. The same thing happened to me recently. After I contacted the person directly, I realized I was creating my own drama in my head. There was none on the other side.

    I think once we get over the fear of picking up the phone (which cracks me up because I used to have the telephone, before cell phones, attached to my ear when I was a teenager), there is lots of benefit involved. Another writer just told me that she found out an editor never received her query via email and she wouldn’t have known had she not called.

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