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nonverbal communication

nonverbal communication on blogs

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,…

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10 thoughts on “nonverbal communication on blogs”

  1. Brynn Wallace

    Something I’ve learned about virtual communication is that face to face contact is preferable as it is impossible to know or judge someone’s real intentions any other way. Honesty is not respected or misinterpreted as negativity and lies are often preferred conversation pieces. Caring and love is about understanding and tolerance with respect for differing opinions held, so I would say DDD is definitely a two-way street paved with human infallibilities but God’s grace and forgiveness.

  2. well, if we’re going to make every effort to not have DDD can I ask you to clarify two things for me?

    1. You state above:

    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?

    Again, so we don’t have any DDD, can I ask,

    Why was it that in your quote you missed out the full text of what Mike wrote, which continued,

    “Or, as Ian Anderson put it…
    “If Jesus saves – well, He’d better save Himself
    from the gory glory seekers who use His name in death.
    Oh Jesus save me!””

    In response to which you then wrote your reply.

    What meaning were you intending to convey with that response?

    2. My initial response to you when this occurred was to point out that on the same thread you take those of a conservative disposition to task for writing things you feel are detrimental to conversation and yet you responded to the above by Mike with the initial remark “Thank for the the encouragement” and no attempt to ask him to restrain his language, unhelpful as it was.

    In what way is my DDD kicking in? How have I misunderstood what you were attempting to communicate?

    1. Thanks, David.

      Just to clarify your “we’re going to make every effort to not have DDD” – DDD is unavoidable; your comment and this reply are still affected by DDD. We cannot make effort not to have it. We can acknowledge it as a problem, and seek to minimise its consequences.

      Yes, generally a person who has not been a commentor on this site much previously may get a comment where a person who is a regular here might not have their comment allowed through moderation and be contacted privately to rework it. So what you are interpreting as an anti-“conservative” I would merely see as a pro-regular-contributor bias. Furthermore, I do not accept the siloing people into “conservative” etc. as I think issues and individuals are more complex than that.

      I have a very busy life and ministry, so to have over a hundred comments on a post means my time to respond and also to moderate are extremely limited. I think/hope most in the community around this site accept and understand those limitations. Just as I spent little time wondering if Peter Carrell really does want people to drag him before a church court, so I joked with Mike that I wasn’t sure whether I should take his comment as encouragement or not. As you know, he offered clarification. We did not end up digressing down that path.


  3. mike greenslade

    The problem with explaining a joke is that it loses its power. The lyric I quoted (and assumed we all knew) was aimed at all of us – myself included, who engage in theological bickering. So – I was encouraging Bosco in his continuing efforts to engage in careful listening, and laughing at our clumsy efforts to join him.
    So much for 3D allusions and illusions.

    1. Yes, Mike! I seem to remember there was this other person who had the same problem with stories and pithy sayings (some of them very witty) which people constantly misunderstood, and his explanations of one story would be by telling another… Blessings.

  4. Bosco,

    The bane of technology (i.e. blogs, texts, emails), how does one convey tone and nuance? I have been lurking on FB and am astounded by DDD.

    As for the use of humour…that makes it complicated…and dangerous.

    I am a Tom Clancy fan and in one of his novels, one of the characters says this:
    “It does not matter how funny a joke is, someone will always be offended. No matter how many times you explain it”.

    My take is when it comes to people reacting or responding to a conversation, be it face to face, blog, FB or text, “everyone has a context”. The problem is the without face to face context, knowing someone, not knowing the context of a person (which in my view is why people respond/react) is what contributes to DDD.


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