Texting and emailing has taken over as the primary means of communication in the 21st century. But has something gotten lost in translation?
When you’re having a face to face conversation you’re not just hearing words, you’re sub-consciously reading body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice as well. These are key elements of communicating a vibe that can easily go unnoticed in text.
While doing research I found that the average human speaks at about 150 words per minute in a conversation. But the average text is only 7 words. Less can be more in communication, but that’s also a huge gap in ancillary, emotional, and contextual information.
CERTAINLY VIBES ARE CARRIED THROUGH TEXT ALONE. BUT ITS NOT ALWAYS EASY TO TELL. FOR EXAMPLE, AM I SHOUTING RIGHT NOW, OR IS MY ‘CAP LOCK’ BUTTON STUCK?
In this article we explore expert opinions, perspectives, and research on communicating vibes, feelings, and emotions through txt and emails.
Let’s Dive In.
Can You Tell Someone’s Emotions Through Texts?
Yup : )
Vibes do get communicated through text, but the interpretation often depends on the ‘emotional filter’ of the reader. A lot can get ‘lost in translation’, mis-translated, and completely misunderstood when it comes to interpreting the vibe behind the words on the screen.
Clearly texting has its advantages of instant and precise communication. Perfect for transactional conversations like “what’s the address of the party”. In some places on the internet and on social media texting is the only option.
But when it comes to more nuanced conversations like “Are you going to the party tonight” a simple reply like “Yes” can be interpreted as ‘short’ and ‘uninterested’. Or maybe the person was driving or in the middle of something else?
As opposed to “Yea Definitely” which conveys a more enthusiastic tone.
From a transactional perspective, both answers reply to the same question with the same answer. But from an emotional perspective, clearly just replying “yes” is a bit colder than replying “yea definitely” which implies a warmer emotional undertone.
“How Do You Read Emotions In Text Messages?”
1. Assume Good Intentions (Remove Unconscious Bias) –
When we mis-interpret text messages, its usually because of a wrong assumption. PsychologyToday recommends trying the “Most People Rule”. The ‘most people rule’ takes into account the bigger picture context where ‘most of the time’, ‘most people’ are acting with positive intentions. It is human nature that most people are well-intentioned.
And even if they’re not, responding positively can’t hurt.
Former CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, is an advocator and vocal leader in assuming positive intent saying that…,
“Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different”.
Executive CEO coach Yuval Atsmon has found that our instincts can easily mislead us to a baseline assumption of negative (or even hostile) intent. This can lead a spiraling (domino) effect, as when we interpret negativity in text, we may naturally feel compelled to respond in kind.
Mr. Atsmon believes that assuming a positive baseline can be difficult, but as a “hack” it’s much easier to try and be aware and avoid negative assumptions. It doesn’t have to be outright positive, but as long as you’re not assuming negative, then that’s a start.
2. Explore The Emotional Undertones of the Words Themselves –
As an expert in human communication and technology Dr. Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. believes strongly in using the ‘right words’ with the right emotional undertones. When writing for Berkley University, Dr. Davis highlights the importance of understanding the emotional undertones when you’re composing texts or emails, as well as reading text from others.
For example, the text “I love this cute kitten,” is clearly expressing positive emotions.
And “I hate this BS hard work,” is clearly expressing negative vibes.
But if a text reads, “This cute kitten is hard work,” it’s a bit of a mixed vibe.
Dr. Davis uses a technique for detecting mixed emotions through tgext which she calls the “bag-of-words” method. Basically she looks at the undertone of each word separately. How positive are the words “kitten” and “cute”? And how negative are the words “hard” and “work”?
By breaking this down, you start to get a feel that the kitten may be cute, but in this moment the sender of this text is feeling frustrated.
Now, if you add an emoji it can make all the difference. For example, “This cute kitten is hard work 😬,”.Clearly the emoji communicates a feeling of frustration.
3. Recognize the Balance of Communication Effort –
Short text responses can be efficient, but they can also lack emotion and lack intent to engage with someone.
Low effort texts could mean a few different things. Someone doesn’t have time to text at the moment, but don’t want to leave you hanging. They could be driving. They could be in a hurry, or maybe they just don’t want to talk to you. Whatever the reason, respect the signal that they aren’t in the mood for lengthy text messages at the moment.
4. Use Your Existing Knowledgebase
I don’t know about you, but I communicate through text differently depending on who I’m texting with.
When I read texts from my Boss, my Finance, and my Dad I literally hear that person’s voice in my head when I read their words from my screen. I know them well enough so I can interpret their voice, inflictions, tone, and general vibe quite well through text alone.
But this only works for people who we know well and have an existing knowledge base of how they talk to pull from. With people we don’t know as well it’s best to just assume a positive tone.
Reading Emotional Energy: The Basic Elements of Communication
Psychology professor Albert Mehrabian has famously developed the “7%-38%-55% Rule” in the 1960’s. Through extensive research Professor Mehrabian found that 55% of communication is through body language, 35% through tonality, and only 7% of communication was relayed through specific word choice.
Through text we can pick up on ‘some’ tonality, but we’re clearly missing the 55% of communication expressed through the vibes of body language.
Body language is important in interpreting emotions, because most people aren’t great at articulately expressing emotions verbally.
For example when someone says “I’m Fine”. I could mean the person is totally fine. But depending on body language and tone of voice, it could mean “I’m definitely not fine, but I don’t want to express myself and /or burden you with my emotional baggage right now”
Tough to tell with-out context over a text.
Pitfalls of Texting (or e-mailing): What Elements of Communication Gets Lost in Text ?
For people like me with social anxiety, texting has been a godsend. But is texting really just playing into our inner fears? Has texting become a ‘crutch’?
It’s important to be able to read other people’s general vibes and read between the lines of what they’re really feeling instead of what they’re telling you they feel. When we lose that 55% of communication through body language, its sort of like driving with one eye closed. It’s still possible, but your ability to fully interpret your environment is hindered.
Here’s the basic elements of communication that you’re missing out on when reading text messages and emails.
Posture And Position –
Posture and position can communicate a lot without saying anything. As a quick example, cross your arms and say “I guess”. Now stand up with your hands in your back pocket and say “I guess”.
The words were the same, but did the ‘vibe’ or tonality of your message change? With your arms crossed saying I guess” comes across as stern, while with your hands in your back pocket “I guess” comes across as a bit more open.
This is just one example, but nuance like this is very difficult to interpret in text alone.
General body positioning aside, specific hand, head, and foot gestures can be key non-verbal communication indicators.
For example, say “yeah sure” while fidgeting with your clothes or while looking at your fingernails. Now say “yeah sure” while nodding your head up and down.
Saying “yeah sure’ while inspecting your fingernails comes across a bit shallow. but by nodding your head, “yeah sure” comes across more open-minded.
Now try saying “yeah sure” while rolling your eyes. A whole new meaning.
Interpreting this in a text only conversation can be tricky depending on the conversational context.
Proximity And Touch –
There’s a difference in how a lot of us speak to a friend vs how we speak to a business associate (and for some us there’s little difference)
But in general the average distance for conversations with business associates (or with people who you’re not real familiar with) is 5’ to 12’ apart. While with friends and family the average conversation distance is 2’ to 5’ apart. And for intimate relationships the distance is 0-2’.
The closer you are, the higher the level of intimacy. This “proximity” can be conveyed in text by using the correct messenger to send the message.
For example, sending a personal text is a much higher level of intimacy than sending a business email (and vice versa). Try to keep this in mind when communicating through text only.
Facial Expressions (Micro-Expressions) –
Micro-expressions can be difficult to read when you’re standing in front of someone, let along over text. Often micro-expression go consciously unnoticed, but sub-consciously interpreted as a general ‘vibe’ or subtle expression of mood.
The easiest way to interpret facial expressions through text is through emoji’s or : ) or lol, and emotional cues can go a long way in communicating and interpreting a vibe through text.
Clothing Choice –
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but still your presentation can say a lot about you be it a good thing, bad thing, accurate, or not.
A clean-shaven guy well dressed in a suit who tells a women she looks beautiful might spark an emotional reaction of blushing. That same guy, saying the same thing, but dressed as a crossing guard, might spark a stern rebuffing.
There’s not a lot of options as an alternative when it comes to purely interpreting text.
Tone Of Voice –
Tone of voice is a BIG one, because if done correctly, it can be (somewhat) translated into text. BUT IT CAN ALSO BE EASILY MIS-TRANSLATED!
Anger and sarcasm are tough to read in txt messages and emails. It’s all about specific emphasis on words, as well as eyebrow and eye movement. An exclamation point can convey being excited! OR ANGRY ! Or something that’s urgent !!
Does the text “Can you do that ASAP !!!”” seem angry or urgent or both? How about if you say “Can you please do that as soon as possible? Thx !” same message, but different ‘tone’. A more empathetic tone in my opinion.
Move Your Communication Beyond Texting
Test messaging an emailing can be efficient, convenient, even addicting, and sometimes a great way to express yourself in a manner that would be more difficult talking face to face. But text also has its limitations and downfalls.
A new study from the University of Texas found that people are more likely to send a text or email because they felt a phone call would be “more awkward”. Sometimes we also email or text out of convenience, but are we actually limiting ourselves by communicating too much through text?
According to the study’s co-author Dr. Amit Kumar,
“People feel significantly more connected through voice-based media”
Think about how much more information can be gained from a 4 minute conversation, as compared to 4 minutes texting.
Not to mention the increases person-person connection (bond) that is formed from talking on the phone. Talking instead of texting creates a more intimate connection, builds a stronger relationship, and conveys much more information.
In one experiment, researchers asked 200 people to predict what it would be like to reconnect with an old friend.
“When it came to actual experience, people reported they did form a significantly stronger bond with their old friend on the phone versus email, and they did not feel more awkward,”
Final Thoughts: Feeling Out Someone Vibe Over Txt
Catching someone’s vibe over text is more difficult than talking on the phone, or having face-to-face conversations, but it’s not impossible. The problem with interpreting vibes over text is a greater opportunity for misinterpreting or mis-reading the tone or intent.
Texting has become the norm, and common practice for new people getting to know each other. So interpreting text has become a new 21st century skill championed by Millennials and Gen Z. Interpreting tone, and catching someone vibe through text relies almost exclusively on context and background understanding.
But when all else fails, phone calls, face-time, and ‘old school’ face-to-face communications form stronger bonds and communicate more information in almost all cases.
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