Words in Confined Spaces

Writers, by their profession, are naturally careful in their choice of words, pouring over a sentence for minutes to ensure it captures just the right sentiment. A thesaurus is more than just a compendium of synonyms. Subtle variations in tone, length, number of syllables, prevalence in modern language, and ease of pronunciation can make all the difference.

There’s the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Real life is a moving picture, rippling through our brains, second by second. When we converse with someone in person, we’re exposed to all their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.

Compare these two sentences:

1) She smiled and set down her coat, “they did a great job plowing snow off the roads this morning.”

2) She yanked off her coat and frowned, “they did a great job plowing snow off the roads this morning.”

The woman in the first sentence is grateful for a smooth drive into work. In the second, she’s frustrated and bitter. Without the body language descriptors, the dialogue is identical. Yet we can see that it’s the non-verbal communication that’s crucial to understanding the woman’s feelings.

Why is this important? Well when you’re engaged in discussion with others over social, especially when you’re only offered 140 characters, so much of the subtlety of speech, tone, and body language is lost. Is it any wonder that people always seem to be yelling at each other online, yet that behavior isn’t echoed in your day-to-day interactions in the real world.

In a prior job, I had a boss based in a different country. He was a busy person and was prone to writing curt, abrupt emails that left me feeling disrespected. Yet, in person he was personable, funny and open to a good chat about a range of subjects. Tactfulness takes time, and time isn’t terribly abundant in our busy lives. Since that job I’ve done a much better job of not letting people’s ill-formed written words trigger me emotionally.

Now can we all give a round of applause then for the GIF and the emoji! How many relationships have been saved by a well placed emoji? GIF’s go one step further, substituting for body language altogether. Ironically, GIF’s are common amongst online writing circles, despite our above average mastery of words. Perhaps we better understand the limitations of words in confined spaces.

The moral of the story is to ask yourself, “if I was on the receiving end of what I am writing, and I couldn’t see the non-verbal communication signals of the speaker, how would I interpret their words?” Could a rephrased sentence, well placed emoji, or poignant GIF save you a stressful argument? If they can’t, is it worth saying at all? Don’t blunder your way to disaster. If you can ask yourselves those questions, and despite it all, what you have to say still needs to be said, just as it is, walk confidently into conflict.

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