Pythons and Emoticons-- Why It's Hard To Discern Emotion From Online Thoughts

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Burmese PythonThere I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle online when the headline grabbed me: "Gulp, The Pythons Are Coming" and I clicked in.  Seems there are pet pythons abandoned to the wild in Florida and they've proved highly adaptable and somewhat mobile-- they can, apparently, travel up to 20 miles a day!  The story continues with a somewhat forked-tongue-in-cheek description of how long and how possible it would be for these reptiles to make their way across the country.  What's great about this story isn't the python, the ludicrous time-line of migration, or the fact that a puff piece like this could even MAKE the front page of a major metropolitan news outlet.  What's great about it is that the dozens and dozens of comments published by readers make it patently clear that YOU ALL-TOO-OFTEN CAN'T DISCERN A JOKE when it's written online!

EmoticonsHow many of you have written an email or a blog comment that you thought was perfectly innocuous when you read it back in your mind only to be slammed by readers that didn't "read it the way you wrote it" in your head?  Let's face it:  a huge limitation to the technology here is that we can't always grasp the subtleties of our language expressed through tone and temperament.  Sarcasm can be 'heard' but is often missed or misinterpreted online.  We don't get the 'pace' of the spoken expression we 'hear' in our minds when we process what we write. We don't get the same clues when we read it that we get when someone [s-l-o-w-l-y] barks it out with a tone we find impossible to mistake.  Humor can be 'heard' as well and we can look for the visible facial cues when we aren't sure if what we heard was intended to be amusing or not.  Online, we get none of those extra hints.  Folks tried to add those little emoticons as an assist for us and they help-- but really, when you see them don't you have an immediate flashback to that cute little girl in middle school that used to pass you notes that had hearts over the letter "i" and x's and o's above her name [and by the way, if you are she, I thought you were cute and I liked you!]?  They work but it's sometimes hard to take those little emoticons seriously. Still, maybe that's the point-- they work and we should take them more seriously....

What can you do to be better understood onlineTry these:

  1. READ IT OVER three times s-l-o-w-l-y OUT LOUD after you've written it.
  3. SAVE IT AS A DRAFT and re-read it later-- step away from the emotion of the moment and 'hear it fresh' again later.
  4. EDIT YOURSELF-- if you're not sure how it will be taken by the reader, re-write it until you are sure.
  5. CONSIDER EMOTICONS-- they aren't as professional as good writing but they're better than being misunderstood!

Heart over the i




Chris Hendricks

Comments (9)

Jeff Kessler
Austin Homes, Realtors - Austin, TX

Those are some great ideas.  I do try to read it out loud.  Sometimes I wait about an hour then reread it to see how it sounds.


Feb 21, 2008 04:34 AM
Ron Parello
Rehabman Mortgage - Oswego, IL

I agree whole heartedly!  But you knew that by my body language, didn't you? 



P.S.  I really mean it!  I agree!

Feb 21, 2008 06:30 AM
Lynn Johnson
Coldwell Banker Home Connection - Owatonna, MN
Owatonna, MN Real Estate
Chris - Great tips.  I've always felt that there are certain things that a phone call can achieve more effectively than an e-mail because of the same things you mentioned.  We really do have to be careful about how the content and the context are received by the reader.  I've asked, on a couple of occasions, for someone else to read my e-mail before it's sent out - especially if it's a sensitive discussion.  Thanks for sharing.
Feb 21, 2008 09:56 AM
Chris Hendricks
Walnut Creek, CA

Jeff: It's the 'out loud' that catches the likely problematic ones.

Ron:  I sensed it in your posture... ;-)

Lynn:  These kinds of content versus context challenges led me to creating a self-imposed '24-hour rule' on the SEND button-- especially when responding to something that originally irritated me.  That rule has saved me countless hours of aggravation by avoiding the 'heat of passion' response online!

Feb 21, 2008 10:03 AM
"The Lovely Wife" (Broker Bryantnulls Wife) The One And Only TLW.
President-Tutas Towne Realty, Inc. - Kissimmee, FL


I have developed the fine art of smiling after every sentence I type in a comment,

Seems to be working for me :)


Feb 22, 2008 01:11 AM
Chris Hendricks
Walnut Creek, CA
TLW:  The next time I have to write a nastygram, I'm going to try that.  Smile after every sentence!
Feb 22, 2008 01:38 AM
Andrew Pawlak
220 Marketing - San Diego, CA

Hey Chris -

I don't often respond to these threads, but I do read quite a few... this post is quite the treat, so I couldn't resist. Very well written and I agree with all your points! Nice to see some quality, intelligent contributions being made to AR. There are so many posts, the good stuff is getting harder and harder to find. Look forward to checking back and seeing what else you've got! Great stuff!




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