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So, tone of voice doesn’t always help us understand…

I have heard it said so many times – how online communication is more open to misunderstanding because we don’t hear the other person’s tone of voice and we don’t see their facial expressions… Heard it so many times and never questioned it, until last night, when I discovered that tone of voice can sometimes cause misunderstandings.

It’s about cultural differences. As an Israeli living in England, it turns out that my tone of voice can sound to English ears as though I’m angry when I’m not angry at all. (I guess that means that when I really am angry, I must sound super-angry to them…)

And now that I think of it, facial expressions can also – in a cross-cultural context – be misleading. It took me a long time to begin to realise that just because these people around me look completely unmoved, that doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing something deeply emotional inside. They just aren’t in the habit of showing their feelings.

So maybe there are some advantages to a form of communication which strips away these outward things, so that we’re left with just the words themselves – plus the odd emoticon to hint that someone’s joking.

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7 responses to “So, tone of voice doesn’t always help us understand…

  1. Tone of voice may convey a misleading message, but it is an additional channel of communication, and often it conveys more information at a greater depth and with greater subtlety than words alone, becuase of the volume, pace, pauses or intonation of what is said. The same is true of direct eye contact, the touch of a hand, a sense of smell, the natural or contrived environment in which the communication occurs and many other factors. If we make choices that result in our communication being by written words alone (and printed words, too, without even the personal flavour of our own peculiar handwriting), then, I suggest, we are starving ourselves – and our fellows – of many vital vitamins that are needed for full-bodied human relationships.

    • “If we make choices that result in our communication being by written words alone” – do you really think that is what I was suggesting?!!!

      My point in this post was this: that there are sometimes disadvantages to the form of communication which includes tone of voice etc. My experience of life shows me that it is possible for us humans to misunderstand each other no matter what form of communication we use.

  2. No. I’m sorry I expressed myself clumsily. I don’t think you were suggesting that it is better to express ourselves by the printed word alone. I wanted to suggest that we lose a lot when we are not literally face to face with one another, with all the non-verbal interactions that go with it; and that, though it is true that that we can misunderstand one another no matter what form of communication we use, on balance we usually understand each other much better when we are face to face. However, I agree that this may apply more to some people than to others.

    • *sigh* I thought I had made it clear enough by starting the post with “I have heard this said so many times…” – what you are saying here is stuff I have heard a zillion times. It keeps being repeated as though face-to-face communication is so very clearly and obviously the best form of communication there is.

      I wrote this post to point out a different angle on this issue, an angle which does not get mentioned very often. It was new to me. I thought it was worth sharing with the world, because others may not have discovered this yet.

  3. I see your point. It is true that we can misunderstand a tone of voice, a mannerism etc and give a twist to the way we take their words that they never meant.

  4. Wasn’t someone just saying “how online communication is more open to misunderstanding because we don’t hear the other person’s tone of voice and we don’t see their facial expressions… “? :^)

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