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How It Is

The Awareness of Method

Being aware of how we speak (or type) to others is imperative in communication when you’re pretty much all remote.

February and March were weird for me. A lot of personal drama, and none of it really mattered to the masses so I kept it to myself and my close friends. I don’t feel the need to publicly broadcast my personal pain on everyone, and I do my best to step back and let it (hopefully) not impact my reactions to everyone else.

This was very hard because a goodly portion of my drama was from the public sector, and it boiled down to people unintentionally hurting me. And as I grumbled on Twitter, I feel like I need to explain how having hurt feelings doesn’t mean I’m over reacting. Which is preposterous.

I understand that, for the most part, the people who hurt me certainly did not intend to attack me or sound combative. And I’m well aware that tone is a terribly difficult thing to read in the written word. That’s why good authors take the time to explain things in detail. Things like italics and bold and capital letters are important for reading into the meaning of a sentence.

At the same time, any time a comment aimed towards me starts with a remark about how they don’t care for drama, I walk away. You should never say that. If you don’t want to talk about the drama, don’t invite the drama. It’s really that simple. And if you’re worried that how you’re saying something, it’s a sign that you should rethink what you’re saying and how you’re saying. This is where the method comes in to play.

The intent of what you’re saying is subject to the manner in which you say it. If you ask a sincere question and people react strongly and negatively to it, then your intent was lost in the method. Communication in text-only is complicated. You can’t see people’s faces, you can’t hear their tone, and most of us don’t know each other to the degree that we can reliably read intent. Simply put, your intent is subject to how it’s read.

For a long time, I’ve advocated people remember that when someone misinterprets what they’ve said, the fault lies in both parties. If I say something and it’s read as aggressive, this is in part my fault for not tempering my tendency to be direct with the need people have for humanity in a conversation. At the same time, no matter how nicely I say “Your plugin has been closed…” someone is rightly going to read it and be angry and interpret that I am being mean or offensive.

It’s a no-win situation. Or at least it’s one I’ve never figured out how to win. I’ve been told the default ‘your plugin has been rejected…’ email is too angry because it uses all caps for one line, even though it apologizes and explains it’s trying to get the reader’s attention and encourage them to … well … read. That email was developed over years of communications with thousands of developers. It’s the one we determined to have the highest success rate of people actually reading and processing what was said.

Still, at least once a day someone replies to an email asking ‘How do I resubmit my plugin?’ This invariably comes in reply to an email that says “When you’ve corrected your code, reply to this email with the updated code attached as a zip, or provide a link to the new code for us to review.” And at that point, I honestly don’t know how to make it more clear.

When people say the email is too aggressive, I explain that we’ve cultivated them over years, but we’re always willing and welcome to make it less so. And we ask if they have suggestions? Not a single person has ever replied with advice, except the person who said “Don’t use emoticons, they’re unprofessional.”

Seriously, you just can’t win.

Which brings me to the point and it’s that winning isn’t the point. Losing is the point. We lose when we don’t take into consideration the reaction to what we say. We lose when we dismiss someone else’s reaction. We lose when we over-react to what we perceive as an over-reaction.

We will never be able to always speak clearly and without accidental misunderstandings. We will never be able to ask every question in a way that makes everyone feel welcome to join a dialogue.

We can be aware that our words have weight and meaning, especially because an increasing number of us communicate in text first (if not text only). We can try to learn from our mistakes. We can apologize sincerely for those mistakes.

What you say can and will be taken out of context. It can and will be read the wrong way. When it happens, it hurts and it tends to make you react poorly. But being hurt by someone’s words doesn’t mean you’re over-reacting. And it would do us all good to remember to respect other people’s feelings and reactions.

Yes. Even me.