Good Manners in a Virtual World

Hey! I know y’all were expecting Andi to pop in with something awesome. She, however, has some other stuff going on and I volunteered to fill the gap. And then I forgot to post something earlier. For all you long-time readers, are y’all sensing a theme with me and deadlines? Yeah, it’s kind of a lost cause.

But, here I am now! Woo!

As some of you surely know already, I like to laugh. More than that, I like to make other people laugh. I like the subtle joke, you know the one that can slide right past if you’re not paying attention? And sometimes (okay, a lot of times), my humor can be a little (okay, maybe a lot) sharp, a little biting, a little sarcastic. One thing I try to never be, however, is mean.

Recently, I’ve had reason to question how much of my humor truly translates for other people and how much just comes off as super-bitch. And, if I do come across as super-bitch, does that mean that’s my super power and I should be wearing a cape? More importantly, how do I make sure people know how my sense of humor works? And does it matter if I explain it? Because, really, if you have to explain something, the joke clearly didn’t work.

This is very much a #firstworldproblem, clearly. But I live in a virtual world. I maintain long distant relationships, both personal and professional, via the internet. My income depends on the fabulous speed and effectiveness of the world wide web. God forbid my internet service go down for a day or two. Want to see a person in full-on, curled-up-in-the-corner meltdown? Visit my house next time my internet goes kaplooey. It ain’t pretty folks.

So, for someone as dependent upon effective online communication as I am, there are some keys, for me at least, to making sure that what I say is received the way I intend. Here are some of the things I try to do:

  1. Keep it professional. If you don’t know the other person’s sense of humor, do not try to be funny. Too much gets lost in the online translation. Especially in a global market. If you’re doing business with folks all over the world, cultural bias/norms will play a huge factor in your communications.
  2. When in doubt, ask someone else to proof read. Yes, I do this a LOT. Not because I’m worried about grammar or punctuation or any of the other scary things about writing. I just want to make sure I didn’t put on my super-bitch cape without knowing it. Most of the time, I do okay. Sometimes, however, I get called on things I say. Tone, it seems, doesn’t really translate all that well without the benefit of voice and facial expressions.
  3. Be prepared to apologize quickly and repeatedly when necessary. The reality is, when communicating with someone via online written formats, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were. What matters is how the other person received it. If you hurt someone’s feelings, intentional or not, you have to make that right.
  4. Say please and thank you. Yeah, that’s basic kindergarten right there, but something my wife constantly reminds me about nonetheless.

What about the rest of you? How important are social niceties in your online communications? Do you care? A little? A lot? Not at all? What ae some of the things you keep in mind when putting a piece of yourself out on the internet for someone else to read?

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12 thoughts on “Good Manners in a Virtual World

  1. I am so with you. My sense of humor is dry and sometimes slightly off. I also love wordplay which sometimes comes across as poor spelling… Also, a lot of my communication of intent is apparently done via my facial expressions.
    In business situations my business partner and I often read each other’s emails before we hit “send” if the email has potential to cause issue.
    In personal communications I tend to use a lot if smiley or winky faces to show that my comment is friendly. In the end I know that sometimes I’ve been misunderstood. I leave it if I think the person thinks I was just being dumb, I apologize if I think the person was offended.

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  2. Food for thought there, Jove! You’re absolutely right. As you say, people have different sense of humour and may not pick up the subtleties intended. I have to re-read what I am saying to see if it ‘sounds’ right. I use emoticons to try and put over the humour, however, have to be careful with the winks in case someone thinks I am flirting lol!

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  3. Oh yes, Jove, A LOT. My deadpan delivery (virtual and real) is often misinterpreted. Facebook friends are used to it, as are my fitness clients, but it’s awful if some flip remark is taken as arrogant/offensive/insensitive, when I am in fact taking the piss out of myself. And there’s nothing worse than trying to explain! Good blog.

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  4. On-line communication only sharpens the double-edged sword of conflicting politeness strategies. The polarization between “indicate politeness by showing informality and closeness” and “indicate politeness by keeping distance and not imposing” is only worse when you have few cues to which style your listener prefers (and especially when your audience is so vast it will necessarily contain people all over the scale). What one person interprets as drawing the reader in as part of a close circle of friends, another will interpret as drawing up a gated wall to emphasize exclusion. (There are a lot of people who interpret my tendency to analyze things with this sort of language to be intended as a wall to keep them out.) Humor will be taken differently depending on which side of the joke the reader feels aligned with.

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    1. Oh yes! The proverbial “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one trying to wade through the muck.

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  5. I’m always very aware of not offending anyone. I know how easy it is for things to be misunderstand in “real life” let alone on the internet. It’s important to be polite and careful when being funny. But we don’t want to over-censor ourselves either. A difficult line to balance.

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    1. You got that right. And I think, sometimes, no matter how hard one tries to find the balance, a person can easily get tipped to one side or another. It’s good, I think, to periodically take a step back and take stock of how things are going.

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