Face-to-face communication can be confusing enough, but how can you interpret what someone means without any discrete visual or vocal clues? Here are some tips to help you avoid misunderstandings when replying to text, chat or email messages.

As technology has continued to evolve, so too has our means of communication. From still images to voice calls, video and written dialogue, humans have greatly diversified how they communicate throughout history. More recently, text-based communication has seen a rise in popularity, particularly among the younger, internet-native generation. People from this demographic have a particular affinity toward texting and instant messaging, having grown up with ever-present mobile devices. But mastering the art of text-based communication also applies to anyone who regularly converses via email, chat or SMS.

And even though you may have a history with these mediums, it doesn’t guarantee that your will always be in sync with the person sending the message. Although text-based communication has its benefits, such as convenience, ease of access and instant delivery, it also comes with drawbacks. Namely, the lack of visual and vocal cues that can help us understand the true meaning of what is being communicated. So, without these clues, how can you detect the right sentiment? How can you make sure you are replying in the right context? Here are some tips to help you decipher what the sender means and help you avoid any misunderstandings.

Ask For More Information

The first step to understanding what someone means is to ask the sender for a more detailed explanation of what they are attempting to communicate. The same is true for text, where people may often send a short, quick message that leaves out much needed context. A simple follow up question, often in the form of a reiteration, can help to clear up any doubts. Usually, the sender will then build off their initial message, providing extra information that will help to clarify their point. An alternative is to ask a more direct follow up, such as ‘what do you mean?’. However, this does run the risk of alienating who you are speaking to, as they may misinterpret your query as a lack of attentiveness or understanding, ironic as it may seem. This method works best with people you are more familiar with, or who you know are more approachable and open to follow-up questions.

Know Thy Lingo

Emojis and shorthand are common among text-based communication, especially chat and mobile messaging (chat and SMS) where an economy of characters is the norm. Knowing your ‘TTYL’ from your ‘WTF’ is a good first step, but it’s only half the picture. For instance, what if someone sends a smirking face emoji (😏)? It’s meaning could be interpreted multiple ways, either a joke, sarcasm or even flirting. If in doubt, ask a friend for colleague for their reading and be sure to provide as much context during your explanation as possible. They could help you see a different angle, perhaps drawing from their own experiences to help you navigate any potential misinterpretations. Either way, it’s always a good idea to brush up your ‘netiquette’ and always remember to avoid ALL CAPS and unnecessary punctuation, lest you wish to convey your excitement!

Running a text message by a friend is a good way to get a second opinion and help to avoid misinterpretations.

Approach With An Open Mind

Without the subtext of vocal cues or facial expressions, inferring the emotional subtext of a text message is constrained by the limited characters we are presented with.

Texting can be tricky, both for the sender and the receiver. Without the subtext of vocal cues or facial expressions, inferring (or indeed conveying) the emotional subtext of a text message is constrained by the limited characters we are presented with. With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to approach any confusing text-messages with a positive and open mind. Thinking the worst and replying in a negative manner can exacerbate the confusion, especially if the sender was operating from a place of positivity. Things may not actually be as bad as they appear. Take a beat and instead approach with curiosity before jumping to any conclusions.

Be Conscious Of Your Own Biases

It can be difficult to detect emotional undertones from text alone. As humans, we attempt to make sense of the world and sometimes this means imbuing emotions where previously none existed. In essence, we can project onto something that which is readily available. So, if we are going through a bad time, we may interpret a text-message through a negative lens, in turn expressing our reply in a similar fashion. Other times, we may already have a preconceived idea about a person, and interpret their message relative to that bias, instead of taking a more neutral stance.

Being mindful of your mindset, feelings, biases and patterns of thought relative to both the content and sender of the message will go a long way to clearing up any miscommunications and help to avoid negative outcomes.

Remember That It’s A Two Way Street

Just as you are seeking clarity, it’s important to try and provide that same sense of transparency to people you are texting. Not only does it help to remove any confusion about your intent, but it will also save you time and get you to your desired outcome faster, without risk of embarrassment or miscommunication. It’s a fine art between providing just enough context, without delivering a manuscript with each message you send. With enough practice and consideration to the above points, you’ll be crafting well-constructed, contextually-sound messages that your audience will understand with ease and definitely appreciate.

*This article is part of our ongoing #Techtober series, where we spotlight tech-related companies and services that provide a positive impact on our world.

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