nonverbal communication

We all know about the debilitating disorders which mean that a person is unable to read, understand, and interpret the non-verbal cues provided in conversations.

You, dear reader, are suffering from this disability right now!

I call this Digital Discombobulation Disorder (DDD). [If you write a PhD or publish a book on this disorder, please credit me, and send me an appropriate percentage of your profits.]

You are suffering from DDD.

Some of you will struggle to interpret the “tone” that this post is written in…

Here’s a couple of principles to help DDD sufferers:

Rule 1: Assume the most positive interpretation.

Rule 2: If you aren’t sure of something – ask.

We could have a discussion about how much, in face-to-face conversations, is provided by non-verbal signals: vocal (volume, pitch, rhythm, etc), body movements (facial expressions, gestures, etc.). Some say only 7% is provided by the actual words. [Let’s not get too distracted by the dispute over the precise percentage]. The vast majority of the non-verbal information is missing online – emoticons notwithstanding.

We had several excellent examples of DDD recently.

I’ve been friends with Mike Greenslade for decades. He knows my approach, my style, my sense of humour. And I know his. That he recently was the only person on the planet to declare that he accepted the historicity of the Apotles’ Creed being produced by the apostles putting forward a line at a time before they went out on mission; and my replying by quoting Monty Python’s Life of Brian, might provide some context. James had asked whether anyone actually believed the Apostles’ Creed origin legend:

Mike Greenslade says:
Kia ora James – (and Bosco)

Yes – I do 🙂

Bosco Peters says:
Reg: There is not one of us who would not gladly suffer death to rid this country of the Romans once and for all.
Dissenter: Uh, well, one.
Reg: Oh, yeah, yeah, there’s one. But otherwise, we’re solid.

In a recent discussion, which was tending towards more heat than light at some points, Mike wrote:

Remember the advice given by the wise one…

Saavik: Any suggestions, Admiral?
Kirk: Prayer, Mr. Saavik. The Klingons don’t take prisoners.

To which I replied:

Thanks for the encouragement, Mike. …Was that what it was?

If you need to add some imaginary flesh to that exchange, imagine Friday-after-work banter over a beer in a sunny, outside bar with some good live music playing…

Peter Carrell, another person I have known well for years, was not only adding comments to the thread, but writing blog posts in dialogue on his own site. There he wrote:

I was also very disappointed that no one was bothering to press Bosco to have me tried for heresy. What more can I do in order to appear before a Tribunal in our church?

I received messages, from people who have met neither Peter nor me, asking whether Peter really wanted to be tried for heresy, and why?!

In response to the Mike-and-me exchange, David Ould on his sites (here and here) wrote:

Bosco affirms another commentor who refers to those who hold to PSA as “Klingons” and “gory glory seekers” – for Bosco this is “encouragement“.

In this DDD example, furthermore, my “…Was [encouragement] what it was?” has been omitted.

So within Rule 1 there is 1a: read what it actually says.

One commentor had been replying for a bit until responses made him pause and have a second look. He had come to the post with certain ideas of what he would find there. Good on him for acknowledging that he had not read what was actually written, but what he thought would be written there. Good on him for apologising.

In another post, a person went to lengths to denounce something they claimed I had written. I had, in fact, written the exact opposite, and was 100% in agreement with my accuser! Some people read what they want to read, skipping right over the parts that indicate agreement as they hunt for something to disagree with.

So Rule 1 is: Give a person the benefit of the doubt. Read a post in the most positive light you can muster. And if that doesn’t work, use Rule 2: If you aren’t sure of something – ask. There was a very helpful example of a dialogue that ensued recently and untangled possible misunderstanding from developing.

A blog post is not a doctoral thesis. It is not overseen by a professional supervisor who, over a period of years of percolation, points to a certain part and suggests reworking for greater clarity. Blog posts are usually written in a rush, in a busy life and ministry; often the ideas are in flux, and they are presented as discussion-starters hopefully in a community that is positive, loving, respectful, and caring.


This is not the first time I have written in this vein. A previous post with further ideas is here on online behaviour.


If you appreciated this post, there are different ways to keep in touch with the community around this website: like the facebook page, follow twitter, use the RSS feed,…

image source

Similar Posts: