You Better Not Be Texting Me in That Tone of Voice!

My nightly prayers shall end like this, from here on out: “…And, God bless my iPhone, which allows me to remain steadfast in my connection to random pop culture knowledge, thereby solidifying my secret relationship with Wikipedia, allows me to ensure my spelling is correct the majority of the time in order to avoid humiliation among my colleagues, predicts my train of thought so that I may continue to become even lazier mentally, allows occasional autocorrect mishaps just to ensure some level of comic relief within the most inopportune of circumstances and, most importantly, creates a vast world of frustrating text and email communication breakdowns within my stupid little “techy” life.”

Hurricane Communication Breakdown

If my iPhone were not so expensive to replace, I likely would have hurled it across the room and shattered a window at least a time or two by now, while caught in the eye of one of the most vicious and frightening storms of our modern day: Hurricane Communication Breakdown.  Such a storm occurs because pertinent fragments of information are often lost in translation through text and email attempts at conveying one’s message. The problem is that vocal inflection, vocal volume and facial expressions, among other factors, are all key components in ensuring thorough communication.

How we deliver our message is just as crucial and impactful as the words contained within the message. Language is only one aspect of communication and is no more relevant than the others. Even the use of emojis does not do an appropriate job of assisting us in getting our points and intentions across. Everyone knows the girl who inserts a “smiley face” emoji after blasting someone with a blatant insult. (Which, for the record, I would like to take a moment to express that inserting a smiley face after an obviously catty comment does not make it any less of a catty comment.)

Take Shelter From Your iphone?

There is so much play room for passive-aggressive behavior within social media and text communication that people have even begun to analyze and dissect each others’ use of emojis. Everything is up for analysis, and is therefore often misread. In this world we live in, we have more means than ever to cultivate new friendships and seek romantic conquests, as well as interact with the ones we already have. Yet these means bring with them a world of frustrating possibilities. We are both empowered and crippled by our communication options.

Once I had an nightmare a freight train was coming straight toward me, absolutely out of nowhere, yet I stood on the track frozen and terrified. I have both received and witnessed others receiving text and email responses, caused by misunderstandings, which produced feelings that greatly resembled the emotion I experienced in my nightmare. We are human beings driven by our egos and attempting to interact and convey emotions through technological devices, therefore we must understand there is enormous propensity for error.

Choose Your Text Interpretations Wisely

People read their texts, emails or scan through their social feeds and process all of the information through whichever filter they may be operating with on that particular day. Their current circumstances – from their love lives to their state of health – are shaping their mindset at the given moment, which affects how they will interpret everything read. In fact, there have been instances where I have noticed myself reading words incorrectly – to a hilarious degree, especially when in a hurry or in a negative frame of mind. I have feverishly read through lengthy texts and even filled in my own versions of some of the sentences, for my brain, so conditioned to be both impatient, was anticipating what the person was attempting to convey to me. This is classic behavior within our generation.

Let’s say, for example, you are having a stressful day, compounded by feelings of fear in regards to a an argument with a friend. When you receive a text from that friend regarding the issue at hand, you may interpret their message dramatically differently than they were attempting to express it to you. Your friend may have been trying to communicate their message to you with a hug, whereas you may have interpreted it as a finger pointing in your face. I actually had someone tell me once that they were not so offended by the content of my text message to them, but more so the “tone of [my] text,” however there was no tone to speak of because it was a text message. There were only words.

Hello, What Just Happened?

A few years ago, I watched in horror as a friend and co-worker, a makeup artist, lose a client because of an unfortunate breakdown in text message communication. He had been attempting to establish guidelines and a timeline while planning to perform wedding makeup for a bride and her bridal party. One day, I received a call from my friend who was not only frantic beyond measure, but also desperate for my insight into his text communication with the bride. He was practically throwing his entire being onto the panic button.

The problem began when he attempted to phone the bride to discuss the details thoroughly, however she was so busy that he had been unable to carry a conversation with her beyond a few consecutive minutes.

The bride just continued to request that he “text [her] to discuss all of the details,” and so he did. And that’s when everything got lost in translation.

A chain of unfortunate events unfolded soon after, and he forward me the screenshots to prove it. When I read through his correspondence to and from the bride, it became evident to me that he was merely attempting to explain the importance of carving out adequate time for bridal makeup, in the event that the bride was unhappy with his initial makeup application. He expressed concern that he would likely not have sufficient time to do full makeup for her bridesmaids, but was eager and willing to work out a plan which would please her and everyone involved.

I attempted to explain to my friend that considering it was less than two weeks prior to her wedding, she was likely in a frantic state of mind. It was a fairly elaborate wedding of 300 guests, and there was no doubt that she was dealing with a variety of bridesmaid demands and questions, venue issues, catering obstacles, wardrobe adjustments, etc. It was so clear: she had processed his text through what I will label as the “overstressed and freaked out bride” filter.

His text messages were direct in his requests yet entirely compassionate, however she interpreted them from a state of mind he could not have possibly understood. Because of this, she assumed my friend was attempting to wiggle his way out of doing the makeup for her bridesmaids, and, as a result, fired him without hesitation. This is a classic, and unfortunate, example of a breakdown in text communication.

Thou Shalt Not Knee-Jerk React and Text

The point of all of this? To stress the importance of avoiding communication breakdowns as much as possible. It could cost you a friend, a lover or a career opportunity. I say this because, oftentimes, communication breakdowns very seldom end with one or two misunderstood text messages or emails. In the event that a person becomes offended by something they have misinterpreted, they may react negatively and, therefore, respond by saying things that may, in turn, offend the person they were originally offended by.

This is when you risk reaching the point of no resuscitation.

Because this situation has the propensity to create circumstances which may shift the dynamic of the relationship, thereby causing it to become damaged or even unsalvageable. Instead of experiencing a knee-jerk reaction to be offended by the content of a text or email someone has sent to you, simply ask them to clarify it for you.

Remember: Defensive texting can be as catastrophic as drunk texting.

Give others the benefit of the doubt more often than assuming they meant you harm or disrespect. Gain a clear understanding before you react defensively. I know this intimately. Being a wordsmith by profession, I often feel more comfortable articulating my feelings, especially during periods of heightened emotion, through written word rather than spoken word. Sadly, I have endured more than a few unpleasant misunderstandings as a result. Because one person’s brain does not process information in the same way the next person’s does. We’re all operating from our own unique sets of biases, personal obstacles and emotional filters. Interpretation is a powerful word even without the additional complexity of text and email communication. So be mindful of another person’s filter.

Oh, and one more thing… I promise that nothing within the body of this article was written in that tone of voice…

(You may now insert an imaginary smiley face emoji…)

  1. OMG- this happens to me constantly with my own husband. He frequently misinterprets my texts and then launches a full-on attack. He never asks questions and refuses to let me clarify- even when it is clear to me that his interpretation is way off base. He told me any misunderstanding he has is my 100% my fault, and that 80% of every conversation is just about the literal words. He also said my intent does not matter. He even reads my texts back to me- complete with dramatic tone and inflection, but he completely imagines his version of my words. I honestly don’t want to text with him anymore, and he exhibits the same behavior in verbal conversation. I don’t know how to resolve this as he assigns all responsibilty for his misinterpretations to me. I think it’s obvious he filters through a bias, but he would never admit that. This causes a lot of upset and needless anger, but I don’t know how to convince him that he is misinterpreting.

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