What You Say Vs. What They Hear

Read below to discover a new word = Nastygram

I remember, some years ago, someone gave me that advise. “Always assume that a message was written to you with a good intend”. There is no tune of voice with an email, and we tend to assume always for the worst. The article below explains it well.

I thought a lot about this statement, and since try to apply it. It also made me think of my own messages – do I really convey the tune that they were written with? So many misunderstanding could be avoided by using these very simple steps…

See article here:

What You Say Vs. What They Hear

Are you sending nastygrams to your work colleagues?

I’d never heard that word before, but it is a perfect term for an insensitive email message. A colleague told me about a mid-size retail company where such messages are causing problems. Ryan, a team leader at the company, sent Andy a nastygram criticizing him for something outside of Ryan’s expertise. Andy exploded when he received it and told his officemate, Janet. She wasn’t surprised – Andy wasn’t the only one Ryan had upset. Ryan had worked there for just a month and he’d already made a lot of enemies.

Negativity Bias and Online Communication

Does Ryan realize he’s sending “nastygrams”? He might think his critiques are appropriate and assumes they will be heard that way. If so, he doesn’t understand “negativity bias” and how it plays out in email and other text-based digital communication.

Most of us live far removed from the physical threats faced by our human ancestors, but our brains don’t know that. The amygdala is the “fight-or-flight” part of the brain that continually scans for things that could harm us. It pays more attention to negative information than to positive input. When we talk with someone in person, our facial expressions and tone of voice convey the feelings that go with our words. When someone sends an email message, they unconsciously assume their unspoken emotional cues accompany the message. Receivers don’t get the nonverbal part of the message and think that positive email was more neutral. When the sender thinks it’s neutral, receivers tend to think it’s more negative.

Our Social Brain and Online Communication

The negativity bias may not be all that’s at play in Ryan’s messages. In face-to-face interactions, when we get an impulse to say or do something, our social brain might say, “Hold on, that’s not going to work.” When you’re face-to-screen, there isn’t the feedback loop to encourage restraint. The result can be flaming – when someone is upset, with their amygdala in firm control, and furiously types out a message and hits send before thinking about it. That emotional hijack hits the other person in their inbox. Flaming stems in part from online disinhibition where the disconnect between the social brain and the screen releases the amygdala from the usual management by the more reasonable prefrontal areas.

Even a phone call gives these circuits ample emotional cues from tone of voice to understand the emotional nuance of what you say. But text-only communication lacks all these inputs.

Connection: A Cure for Negativity Bias

Another aspect of Ryan’s “nastygrams” may be that the people receiving his messages don’t know him well. New at his job, he probably hasn’t made a connection with Andy and other team members. Clay Shirky, who studies social networks and the web at New York University, told me about a global bank security team that operates 24 hours a day. He said they use what he calls a banyan tree model, where key members of each group got together and met key members of every other group. Then, in an emergency, they can contact each other and get a clear sense of how to evaluate the message each group was sending. If someone in the receiving group knows that person well, or has a contact there whom he can ask about the person who sent the message, then the receiving group can better gauge how much to rely on it

Like the bank security team, many of us work across distances with people we rarely, if ever, see. In those situations, it can help to use videoconferencing, at least in early interactions. It helps to take the time to get to know each other, what you enjoy about your jobs, possibly something about your backgrounds or life outside of work. Such conversations will help you make a connection. Then, when you’re using text-based communication, you’ll be better able to envision the person who will receive your message.

Try This

If Ryan had followed these simple steps before he sends email messages, he might not fall into the nastygram pit:

Save the message as a draft.
Take three deep breaths (even better, wait longer).
Open the message.
Imagine you’re the recipient of the message, including what you know about who they are.
Would they read this message as having a positive or negative tone?
Revise the message to reflect your intended tone.
Taking a few moments on your intention and message can save you hours, days, or even weeks of trouble.

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