As digital communication continues to expand into different formats, it can be increasingly difficult to determine the intentions of the person you’re talking to. Of the various common ways that we might communicate, I think intention becomes more difficult to discern as you work down this list:
- In person
- Video call
- Phone call
- Text message
On the other hand, you can essentially flip that list around in terms of the amount of attention that needs to go into the communication. As you go down the list, you are less invested in the moment. It’s not a coincidence that both vague intentions and invested attention go hand-in-hand.
The more you’re invested in a communication (you’re unlikely to be watching a YouTube video on the side while meeting with someone in person), the easier it is to determine their tone and intention. With any communication that isn’t in person, though, intention can be hard to grasp — even if you’re focused. So what can you do? Just assume the best.
In her book “Digital Body Language“, author Erica Dhawan simply says:
If tone’s the problem, assume the intentions were good and respond with facts.
Maybe you misread the tone and it came off sounding aggressive. Or maybe the tone was aggressive, but you aren’t sure. Assume their intentions were good, respond with facts, and keep things moving.
If you’re with someone and you often find yourself assuming that their intentions are bad, why are you spending any time with them in the first place? You may be forced into some of those situations (a chat with your boss, perhaps), but in most cases you can just walk away. If you can’t bring yourself to assume good intentions during a conversation, it’s time to evaluate why you’re having a conversation with that person in the first place.