We humans want to be right, we want what is fair (in our own estimation) and be found above reproach in all our dealings. However we often don’t succeed. I think that’s because we judge our own actions or responses by our intent – what we mean to say, what we feel emotionally, how we hope to to be received. The flip side? We take the other person’s actions at face value – how we hear them, what their emotions appear to be, and receive their words or actions based on the outcome. Of course, that is a generalization, but my personal experiences with angry people have borne out this theory.
This relational dynamic is even more difficult when it’s done in writing, and as we’ve found on YMX, is one of the major complicating dynamics in fostering online community. Today I read an article by Daniel Goleman which goes to the very heart of the issue. In Email is Easy to Write (and to Misread), Goleman describes an email interaction that wasn’t working, which was quickly and positively resolved by a phone call. He, the author of the book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, goes on to say in the article:
The advantage of a phone call or a drop-by over e-mail is clearly greatest when there is trouble at hand. But there are ways in which e-mail may subtly encourage such trouble in the first place.
This is becoming more apparent with the emergence of social neuroscience, the study of what happens in the brains of people as they interact. New findings have uncovered a design flaw at the interface where the brain encounters a computer screen: there are no online channels for the multiple signals the brain uses to calibrate emotions.
Face-to-face interaction, by contrast, is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us not only from their tone and facial expressions, but also from their body language and pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say.
Most crucially, the brain’s social circuitry mimics in our neurons what’s happening in the other person’s brain, keeping us on the same wavelength emotionally. This neural dance creates an instant rapport that arises from an enormous number of parallel information processors, all working instantaneously and out of our awareness.
In contrast to a phone call or talking in person, e-mail can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich emotional context we convey in person or over the phone.
It goes back to what all my sociological and communications training and experience points to – complete communication is interpersonal rather than impersonal. This has real implications for online interactions which are by definition written and nearly instant, and is something we regularly bump into as we moderate the forums at YMX. Word choice, writing style, even a person’s history with other members in previous discussions and debates, all come into play. There are some folks who come across in writing as ‘looking for a fight’ on any topic, and others who choose different ways of expressing quite similar views. Not surprisingly, the latter folks interpret the statements of the former folks as personal or offensive. Sometimes they clearly are, and sometimes it is simply the limitation of the instant, written medium hastily composed and posted in the heat of their own judgment in the intention v outcome mode I described above. Very rarely have the moderators found real anger and intent to offend or retaliate behind those written words.
Because handling anger in all its forms is nearly a daily challenge for everyone, YMX offered as this week’s free resource a 3-page compilation of material (definitions, questions to ask yourself before reacting, scripture citations, and resolution models). While it’s specifically offered for youth ministers to use to create lessons tailored to their ministry context and help their students to recognize the dynamics of anger and of God’s way of anger resolution, it would be background material useful to anyone. It is definitely material that would help anyone to move closer to fulfilling the scripture in this post’s title, “In your anger, do not sin.” Click here to download that free material.
(ht for the Goleman article to TitusOneNine