I recently sent an email to a friend, applauding him for his boldness in speaking his mind. I thanked him for saying many of the things I’d like to say in the arenas which he says them in, if only I wasn’t concerned of being mistaken for being angry. The thing I think I hate more than anything else is being misunderstood. I hate when the intention behind my words gets lost and the meaning disappears with it. Yet the place where I find myself communicating most frequently, the internet, lends itself so frequently to misunderstandings and misinterpretation.
When facial expressions, tone of voice and body language are removed from the equation, communication is stripped down to a form that has a potential for danger. Regardless of the intention that the sender had when typing the words, the message is essentially at the mercy of the receiver and that receiver’s mindset at the time the message arrives. Something that was written in a very matter of fact manner can be interpreted as having a harsh tone, or even anger behind it. Not only can it be taken that way, in my experience, it often is. That’s why, for as bold as most people see me, I am often gun shy when it comes to expressing myself in certain ways in certain places.
This comes from far too many emails, forum postings, and even text messages of mine being misconstrued. It’s one thing when a calm, thoughtful missive is misinterpreted by a reasonably new acquaintance, especially one you’ve only ever communicated with online. It’s completely different when it happens with someone who you’ve met and spent time with in person. To me, that’s where the person should know from experience what kind of person you are and are not. Therefore, your messages should be assumed to have a certain tone unless clearly indicated otherwise (All caps, lots of exclamation points, and certain not-so-subtle words might be an indicator of some heat.). People should err on the side of, “He’s just voicing an opinion.” However, so often that doesn’t seem to be the case. For as well as I am able to write, and communicate in general, my energy and passion often come across as me being heated, when transmitted via an electronic medium. For someone who is able to articulate himself reasonably well, the imperfections of online communication have a way of turning me into someone who might as well save himself the trouble and just draw a picture.
After expressing a bit of this frustration to the aforementioned friend (along with my respect for his ability to speak his mind online without being taken wrong), he replied with the following:
I was a taken aback a bit by this. I was so heavily focused on my flaws (as I so often am) when it came to communicating online, that I failed to see what my strength was. While I was so busy picking apart something I seemingly don’t do so well, something very positive was eluding me. While I was so preoccupied with being my own harshest critic (which I might as well have business cards made for), I failed to give myself credit for something I do right. I thought about what he had said and, as hard as it is for me to acknowledge what I get right, he’s got a point.
Shh. Here’s a secret:
Some people have strange gifts.