Taking Offense – Should We?

Recently I posted a comment to a blog. I left a way for the blog owner to be able to contact me. They did that and took me to task over my comment. I replied and clarified and all is now happy and peaceful again twixt they and me.

The issue here, I guess, was my phrasing and the blog owners initial reading of my comment. My intended attempt at a bit of tongue in cheek humour failed miserably and this set me to thinking. I’ve read many a time about how we all get mis-understood in online communications and indeed I have been guilty of both sides of that story in the past. However, due to the nature of my job (I deal quite a bit with a myriad of end users from CEOs down to the stores person through to dealing with people whose first language is not English) I have adapted over the years and I guess have become a little blasé about my writing style – in short I believe I’ve got it cracked so as not to offend.

These days when liaising with clients I check and re-check what I’ve written and if I’m feeling a little insecure about my written words I even get a colleague to read over it and ask them what they think I’m saying and how I appear to ‘come over’. Because of this strictness I place on myself I guess I tend to relax away from the job and was this the problem I encountered with my comment to the blog. Did I double check or did I just post without a great deal of thought? The answer is obvious, now, in that I was on the shotgun approach of get in and get out but my intentions were only ever the best and I didn’t set out to offend.

So much for good intentions in trying to help a fellow blogger earn a few more responses or kudos or even pennies.

So should the reader have taken offence?

Should they have presumed that what they read is what I said?

Should I be given the benefit of the doubt and a polite query raised first as to my intention?

Or should I be summarily shot down?

I can’t answer that except to tell my approach.

First I read the comment and if I’m at all unsure of the intention I may even re-read my own posting to make sure I have the right end of the stick. Next I will read the comment at last two more times to be certain I’m not putting any incorrect emphasis on it. I also read all posts with the thought process that “the poster isn’t intending to cause harm” unless it is clearly obvious they are.

If I’m still uneasy then I will ask the poster to clarify by privately eMailing them. All this time the comment is on hold. However, reply or not I will always publish the comment as I don’t believe in hiding criticism be it justified or not.

Also, does the now rather commonplace usage of a smiley negate the need for the poster to try and carefully structure their posting so as to be 100% clear? I use smilies from time to time but I certainly don’t litter my postings with them. If I really feel my un-modified comment needs a bit of extra clarification to diffuse tension then I will use one.

In the real world we rarely take offense at a comment due to the fact that we have additional clues to help us gauge the words. We have visual and physical, as in we can see the smile or the snarl. We can hear the venom or lack of it in a person’s voice and we can see the posture of their body.

None of this is available to us online.

Now I admit I’m one of the first to agree that I have been labeled as arrogant before due to my written words and implied above that I’ve fallen on both sides of the fence. However once the recipient is made aware of the real intention… I want to say re-educated but it seems too arrogant… then on all occasions they have retracted their initial view of me.

But does this mis-reading of my intentions and I have to say it doesn’t happen a lot, demand that I change the way I write or more to the point change my core character to fit in with another’s thought process? Bearing in mind that in probably 9 out of 10 times I’m not going to know the person and thus all I have to go on are their written words.

I believe the opposite. I firmly believe one shouldn’t alter their style to fit into someone else’s viewpoint of what and how you should be. The only caveat to this is that this doesn’t include direct attacks on a someone’s character. I further belief that to alter your approach is like trying to force someone to give up smoking – it rarely works.

There is an onus on the writer to ensure their words are clear but we all fall prey to the “type and dash” approach at times. But more than the onus on the writer shouldn’t there be a heavier onus on the reader to not jump to any presumptions on the meanings behind another’s written words? In fact we (for I do include myself) have a responsibility to read, re-read and if necessary walk away and then re-read the comments again. We also should always presume that the writer had the best of intentions and wasn’t setting out to cause offense or harm by their words.

There are, as ever, exceptions to every rule but the world would be a better place if we all believed the other person meant no harm or hurt in the first place. And anyway, you can always ask them to clarify what they mean.

[tags]online, communciations, verbal, written[/tags]