The Evil Twin Rule
When we’re reading something communicated by text, there’s no tone of voice or real-life facial expression to tell us exactly what the other person means.
Our brains are very silly in how they deal with this lack of information. Instead of doing this:
…our brains tend to do this:
This can get pretty bad with people we know. It’s much worse with strangers, because we have no knowledge of what sort of expressions and tones tend to go with that person’s words.
This acts as a kind of amplifier for interpersonal discord on the internet. When you write a comment in text, it’s kind of like sending your condescending, resentful evil twin in your place to read the message aloud to the recipient.
And the worst part is, they’re going to send their evil twin to read you the reply!
You can tackle this problem on two fronts.
First, when you’re writing to someone you suspect will hear you the wrong way, stop and read over your message in the most cutting tone you can think of. If reading it meanly sounds natural, change the wording around. Add statements of appreciation, or clarifications about how you feel and what you’re hoping for. Make things hard for your evil twin.
Keep in mind that your evil twin is very good at being evil, and get ready to clarify if something still manages to come across wrong.
Second, when you get a message that seems cutting, stop to consider how it would sound if you read it in a warmer tone. Like earnest concern, or friendly teasing.
If you’re not feeling up to the task of changing how you interpret someone’s online tone, or you feel you really need to know for certain how something was meant, you can ask. Say something like, “Hey, this thing you wrote came across to me as being in a really biting tone, implying that you were mad at me. But I’m not sure if that’s how you meant it. Can you please clarify that for me before we move forward with the discussion?”
Because tone conveyed through text can be super misleading.