In today’s tech age, many conversations that we have are done either via text or email. But should sensitive conversations really be had this way? Have you ever misinterpreted a text because you read it in the wrong ‘voice’?

This week we celebrate National Punctuation Day. It’s a day to look at all of these little marks that we use (or sometimes don’t use) that can change the way a thought is interpreted. Do you think about punctuation when sending a text or email?

The importance of verbal communication

We’ve talked about it before. Communication is so much more than the words that come out of your mouth. In fact, some of the most important aspects of communication come from the non-verbal acts that accompany the words. Your body language, the tone with which you are speaking, the volume, etc.

When you get a text from someone, do you ever read it out loud? Sometimes if a text or email that I receive appears to be important, I will read it out loud. And then I will try to read it again, in a ‘different’ voice. Am I really understanding what the writer is intending to convey? Have I read this correctly?

The placement of punctuation

I’m going to geek out a bit here and base this thought on a lyric reference from the musical Hamilton. In one of the songs Angelica states:

In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning, did you intend this?

You see, Hamilton wrote “my dearest, Angelica” rather than writing “my dearest Angelica”. That simple placement of the comma after dearest changed the entire meaning of the phrase from a simple greeting that one might use with anyone to a term of endearment. That single comma changed everything.

Do you even use punctuation?

So, coming back to present time, do you EVER think about punctuation and its placement when you’re texting or emailing someone? I know that our language has changed vastly since the days of our founding fathers, but there is still much to be said about punctuation and placement. Was that lone ‘!’ really important? Did it need to be there?

When you’re asking someone a question, are you using the ‘?’ or just writing the words and assuming that the individual you’re conversing with knows that it’s a question? Think about it…I can write “There are 40 people?” or “There are 40 people”. That simple ‘?’ completely changes the entire sentence. And if I’m writing someone without any context, it can be very confusing indeed.

Those important conversations

As a therapist, I’ve spent the past 15+ years discussing the importance of having significant conversations in person. As we have slipped further and further into the world of texting and emailing, many people no longer want to have those conversations over the phone or even in, god forbid, in person. It’s just so much easier to write it.

But just because something is easy doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it. As I keep saying, so many little nuances can be lost when writing a conversation. The tone of someone’s voice, the pauses that are taken, the excitement. All of it. These nuances simply cannot be conveyed via email or text.

The anxiety is often worse than the conversation

Think about the anxiety that comes with sending a text or an email. How often do you check your phone or email after you’ve sent an important message to see if you’ve received a response? So much of the power and control is relinquished once you hit send.

When you have a conversation you typically don’t have to wait that long. At the very least you’ll get a response that is similar to “You know what, I’m going to have to think about that and get back to you”. But at least you KNOW that they’ve received the message, heard it and will be thinking about it.

What’s the worst that can happen?

I frequently will use the following exercise with people that I am working with when they are nervous about having an important conversation. I first ask:

What is the absolute worst thing that you think is going to happen when you have this conversation?

Then I sit with them and explore all of the different scenarios that could happen. Usually, as you explore these scenarios and role play them, the anxiety will subside a bit. Because once you have an idea of the worst possible outcome, nothing else really seems that bad.

And often times the actual conversation will turn out much more successful then anticipated. That’s the thing with actually talking to someone…although it may not always end up the way you want it to, you don’t have to constantly wonder ‘what if’ as you wait for the answer. You will get a response and be able to move on accordingly. 😉