Photo by Ryan McGuire
How we say things online can impact how much we influence commitment in others offline. Communication is tricky business. It’s hard enough to ask for what you want in person, but when you add in the complications from the varied ways we communicate today — text messages, tweets, emails, chat — it can get even more challenging to be clear.
Expressing Concern Online Can Be Dangerous
Be mindful when expressing concern online.
Why? How people feel about themselves around you dictates commitment or compliance to your written word. For example, when you express concern by email, folks may read the words much snarkier (or angrier) than initially intended. When people read your stuff, they get to decide your tone. If they get triggered by your email, you may lose future influence with them.
Here is a little exercise to test the point above. Say the following sentence five times, putting emphasis on the bolded word in each version.
- Mary had a little lamb. (Mary had the lamb — Bob didn’t.)
- Mary had a little lamb. (Mary lost the lamb or no longer has it.)
- Mary had a little lamb. (Mary had just ONE little lamb.)
- Mary had a little lamb. (It was a little lamb, not a big one.)
- Mary had a little lamb. (It was definitely a lamb, not an iguana.)
Make up a sentence of your own and try it. I just did. It works.
- I never tried to steal your purse. (Implies that someone else did.)
- I never tried to steal your purse. (Emphatic that I didn’t steal it.)
- I never tried to steal your purse. (Implies I did steal it, I didn’t just try.)
- I never tried to steal your purse (Doesn’t really make sense.)
- I never tried to steal your purse. (I did something else with it.)
- I never tried to steal your purse. (I tried to steal someone else’s purse.)
- I never tried to steal your purse. (I tried to steal something else.)
Notice how the above sentence has 6 different meanings based on how you read it?
Why Email is Hard
A person reads your email in the tone they feel when they interact with you. Often, folks get so distracted by the perceived tone, they miss the content.
Let’s say you do not care about how people feel and do not agree nuance in emotion dictates commitment. Folks often misunderstand direction in emails even when they are written perfectly. How they read can change the meaning of the sentence.
Here’s an example of why emphasis matters:
King Kong stood on the top of the Empire State Building. Fay Wray screamed, “Flying plane, Flying plane!” Kong gave her a quizzical look and said (assuming he could talk, for our purposes), “Don’t worry. I have no intention of flying a plane.” Just then a flying plane hit him from behind. Poor big monkey.
Three Things You Can Do
Sometimes, a quick offline conversation is more effective in creating understanding and reduces back-and-forth time in the long-run.
- If you can’t meet in person and must email (or text message/chat) avoid expressing concern by email.
- If you must express concern by email, be mindful of what you say. Avoid broad sweeping statements, war language and accusatory sentences.
- If you can’t meet in person, pick up the phone (or Skype/Facetime), the additional cues you get via tone or facial expression will help increase understanding.