I previously blogged about the differences between denotation and connotation and I received a lot of replies about how much they apply to text messaging. I conveniently found a tweet from a fellow classmate which pertained to emotions being expressed through e-mails:
— Jenna Vargo (@jenna_vargo) October 9, 2014
As Sean Hall introduces in his book, This Means This That Means That, the connotations are our meanings. We create the connotations through how we interpret the message or picture.
In the article by Eric Jaffe, a study of e-mail interpretations shows that message senders often, if not always, believe that the receivers will understand and interpret the emotions of the e-mail correctly. When it comes to text communication, only 53% of the receivers picked up on the emotion correctly. That’s only half of the people picking up on the correct emotion. Think about that?
On average, people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 24 send 2,022 texts per month– 67 texts on a daily basis– and receive another 1,831. Now if you think of it simply, half of your daily texts are probably being misinterpreted. Which yes, then that would explain why Becky texted you asking “r u mad?” Because people do not understand your emotions through a simple one word text!
Now, if we go back in time when telephones were the future (I know, to think they used to be such a big deal) and transmit those same messages through verbal communication, 73% of the receivers picked up on the emotion correctly. I will be the first one to admit, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone. There are awkward silences and dropped calls and you never quite hear what the other person said. Or we all have those friends or family members who talk to everyone in the room, but not you, the person on the other end that they called in the first place.
Phone calls are a pain.
But, they serve their purpose. As children we are taught the different emotions and how to tell which one is which. We observe facial expressions and draw from the change in tone of someone’s voice. From this study, researchers have explained that face or phone time works much better when it comes to communicating rather than texts or e-mails.
Now rewind to Hall. Connotations are the meanings we understand, right? In the article, Jaffe introduces an e-mail between a consultant and her boss. The consultant served as the sender in this story and the boss, the receiver. The original e-mail was several pages long and filled with everything the boss needed for the project or meeting. While the consultant clearly put a lot of time in to that e-mail, her boss responded with “Noted.”
…Noted?! Yes, the simple one word answer just like when we text a super long meaningful text to get a “K” back in response.
Immediately the consultant took the response negatively, thinking her boss hated her, and questioning whether he truly did or not. As Jaffe shares, “If we all took ‘noted’ to mean ‘he noted that’ instead of ‘he hates me,’ we could all move on with our days.” The problem between the consultant and her boss was eventually solved…through an e-mail asking if he was mad at her followed by a phone call to clear the air.
If we took the message for face value– if we only focused on the denotation of the message– these problems would not be ruining relationships across the technology filled world. In comparison to phone calls, yes, communicating through technology eliminates the awkward silences. But if we’re never put through them, how will we know how to properly handle them?
So why do we suffer from these communication breakdowns? We’re selfish people! We use simple, one-word answers to shorten our response time. We immediately take that lack-luster one-word answer to heart, twist it up, and spit it out to mean “he hates me.”
How can we solve these miscommunications? Talk, and I mean verbally talk to the person. Or as Jaffe proposes, “use concrete emotional words in an email (e.g. ‘I’m happy to say…’), or to clarify someone’s tone (‘when you said that, I took it to mean…’), or if you must, to dispatch emoticons.” However, emoticons and punctuation can only cover so much of your message before becoming too much, or indecipherable.