Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Tone

I am easily amused. People amuse me, because they do funny things. I don't mean laugh out loud fall off the chair unable to breathe funny. I mean a mild smirk because of the curiosity value.

I rather like the fact that we talk to one another online over great distances. We come from lots of different places, different cultures, different backgrounds. This is an amazing thing. We find common ground with people that once upon a time we'd have tried to conquer or who would have tried to conquer us.

Those with a different first language can be close friends, and then those with the same mother tongue can often be very different to us and harder to get to know.

As you know, I'm not impressed with those whose first language is English, and yet communicate badly. Recently I wrote about how we all do this poorly from time to time, but today I want to look at a phenomenon that is strictly a written word issue.

It's when the tone of how it is read affects what is read.

Let's look at a simple sentence.

"But you don't know what it's like..."

First, try reading it out in a neutral tone. Not a big problem, just a statement.

Now try reading it with emphasis on the word YOU.

Now it sounds a bit more accusatory.

Try instead placing the emphasis on the word DON'T.

Changes the intent a bit.

Now try both of these in a whiny voice.

Now try them both in an angry voice.

Now try them both in a soft, gentle voice like Gandalf explaining something to Bilbo.

That one simple sentence has taken on many different subtle meanings.

There are two problems really. One is that we tend to read things in our own voices, with our own emotions, and our own pre-conceived ideas. If we are expecting a person to be combative we might "hear" a combative tone where one was never intended.

On the other hand, we may not be careful enough to write things in such a way that misunderstandings couldn't easily arise. If I type in "you have no idea" it could strike as very dismissive indeed, and I could phrase it better to avoid problems.

So, there is responsibility with both the writer and the reader.

This morning I experienced both. I'm sitting here in a very good mood, i.e. not reading things in an angry tone, and to my surprise I saw the same person apparently say things twice in a very offhand way. I tried reading it in a really soft tone and it still comes across badly. I'm now concerned about this person, they may well be stressed out.

And in another place I was read very wrongly. In trying to be extremely helpful I was read as being sarcastic and rude. The only way what I said could be taken that way is if it's read in a sarcastic and rude tone, so I think that person was anticipating such a remark.

It's a bit of a minefield, and sometimes it's unavoidable. I'm just reminding everyone this morning of a phrase we used to use back in the early days of the internet.

"ASSUME GOOD INTENT WHEN READING"

Because even if you are wrong, and it was meant to be snidey, no harm will come of you responding gently.

Have a great Tuesday.

8 comments:

  1. Read this with good intent: you are like sunshine. You are up before me and have a happy face when I am still in the fog between sleep and wakefulness. Have a great day.

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    1. Thanks Amy. For some reason I wake up fast.

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  2. If a post offends me, I tend to leave it for a few hours and then re-read it. Sometimes I find my own inner voice colored how I perceived the post. Other times, I decide I was correct in being offended.

    I was just pondering my slightly extended family last night as they always accuse me of being negative. But when I sit and listen quietly, I observe them being very negative and judgmental. The difference is, they all agree with each other and my opinion tends to differ from theirs.

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    1. Take it from me, you are NOT a negative person. Whatever their shared issue is, you are not the problem.

      And yes, the re-reading can be a good idea!

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    2. I appreciate that, Melanie. I've been the family kick-toy for my entire life. I'm not whining about it - it just is. They are all reasonably sized and dark colored and slim-ish. I tower above them, am very pale and blond and I tend to be large all over. This does not bother me and I've suffered from no lack of male attention because of it. It does seem to bother them. A lot.

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    3. People who judge by appearances basically show who they are.

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  3. The English language: greatest barrier to communication since we invented the twongue tister.

    BTW, do you get upset with people who think they have a tounge?

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    1. Upset, no. I'm only actually annoyed by that sort of thing if it is published or made into a sign. Actually that's a perfect example of misunderstanding of reaction. When I talk about poor grammar/spelling people often misunderstand my intent, sometimes they get defensive about it, which is interesting. What I do try to do is explain/help, because English can be confusing and it's often not taught well.

      But I do get frustrated at the really common ones, especially if I've gone on about it at length and my friends are still doing it. I think they do it on purpose to drive me mad.

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