When Interpreting Tone From Raw Text

I had a great conversation with one of my clients yesterday about a couple of email messages she received over the last few days. When she read the messages to me, they seemed fine – they were in my opinion clear, accurate, and unambiguous. When she stopped reading them and looked at me, I was left with a blank look on my face and wondering when she was going to bring-up something that should have bothered her. The silence was broken by her asking “so, do you think I should be upset by that?”

I replied with “no” citing that the email was clear and without any tone whatsoever. Then it dawned on me, in the absence of information, we create the information we are missing if we feel we need to. In this case, tone was manufactured based on something internal.

“So, how do you feel about this person? How have the two of you been interacting recently?” Then the flood gates opened that the source of the tone became evident. Their interactions have been strained recently due to some work / life factors that can’t be controlled by either one of them and when the messages appeared in her inbox, the natural tendency was to transfer the strained feelings onto the author of the message and then interpret the message accordingly. It is another common example of the fundamental attribution error and it shows how automatic some of our behaviours are. It reveals how diligent we must be when engaging our thoughts.

Unless it is stated or evident, DO NOT interpret tone with raw text. If you do, take a moment to consider why YOU are interpreting the text in such a way. Very often, our interruptions of things reveal more about how we feel about them; which is fairly important information.