The past couple months, I’ve had several difficult conversations in my professional and personal life. Some I delivered and some I was on the receiving end. They were all brought about due to misunderstandings because of this highly virtual world we now live in. It’s been said many times before – it’s easy to fire off a text or email thinking that you’re saying one thing, while the other party hears another.
I’m as busy as the next person, having a lot on my to do list and calendar. So, sometimes it’s easier to communicate asynchronously instead of finding a mutual time to talk. I generally feel like I can pick up on someone’s tone in their texts or email messages, but the last couple months proved that that’s not the case.
When you’re on the receiving end of a nasty gram, it’s easy to think that the sender is saying something that’s all about you. You might read between the lines and see more than what was actually communicated. What often reveals itself when you talk to a person are their motivations, their mental state at the time, and other things that might be influencing what they wrote that have nothing to do with you.
It’s hard to be forgiving and have compassion in the heat of the moment. I’ve found that when I feel myself getting upset about something I’ve read, I have to follow some rules so that I don’t spout off with something equally nasty.
- Only read it twice. Then respond neutrally and ask if you can talk. I say twice because the first time, your anger is building, you’re skipping over words, and you’re not seeing the full picture. Reading it more than twice just starts to upset you unnecessarily.
- Before you talk to the person, write down a few notes to help you start the conversation. Things like, I read what you said and here’s what I think you were communicating. Then ask, is that correct? The other person might be shocked that you’re not attacking them and will open up and reveal more than you anticipated.
- Listen and work toward finding a workable solution. If that’s not possible in the moment, set another time to talk again.
Even worse, misunderstandings can happen due to a non-response. Raise your hand if you’ve experienced something like this. You send an email to a colleague asking them to do something for you. They didn’t respond all day even though you knew they were working and didn’t have that many meetings. Your mind starts spinning out of control with thoughts like, See, she never does her work. I knew I saw her rolling her eyes at what I said in the last Zoom meeting. She just doesn’t like me. My hand is up, is yours? It’s a common situation. Instead, you have to push a little harder to communicate. Call and ask if they got the email and can take care of it, especially if it’s time-sensitive. Maybe they got caught up in their other work. Or, maybe you’ll find out they really don’t like you. Either way, you got an answer!
I hope these tidbits of advice help you to improve your interpersonal relationship skills in our virtual world. It’s funny how taking the analog instead of digital route still can make a difference.