- Balancing Beauty and Bedlam - http://beautyandbedlam.com -

Yikes! Life Lessons Learned from On-Line Miscommunication


With the sun peaking through my window, and my morning coffee snuggled gently in my hand, I sat down at my computer to read the few early morning comments that my readers had left from the night before.

I knew I would get some chuckles because the pictures shared showed priceless beauty and bedlam family moments – I thought.

Only six months into my blog (2009), the community of commentors I was building was an important part of my readership. I wrote as if they were sitting right beside me, sharing every bit of our journey right along with me.

The only problem? Not all of them did.

I eyed the first few. Yep, they laughed right along with me.

“Oh, that is so precious. Wow, that is too funny. I hope that chick is alright, but what a great shot.”

And then I gasped. My stomach sank, and three years later, I can still feel the absolute horror of one picture being so misinterpreted.

“Animal Torturer.”

What kind of mother are you exposing your children to animal cruelty like that?”

“We respect every animal as if it were precious life, and obviously, you don’t.”

At this moment in our home, all five children woke up to their mother screeching, ” Oh no! Oh NO! This is horrible. How did it get misconstrued like that? Oh my word! I am dying. Oh no. I need to make this right.”

Yep, pretty sure that was exactly what they heard as they woke from a sweet sleep.

This new generation of blogging,  texting, commenting and facebook communication has opened up mind fields of miscommunication. We jump to conclusions, assume we know the context of a sentence or two, and in rapid fire succession spew our rash answers right back.

Sometimes, our conclusions are correct, sometimes, they are completely off base causing deep rifts in relationships, both online and in real life.

Clearly communicating in real life is difficult enough, but when we throw in viral communication through emails, texts or blog comments when hearing one’s tone of voice, interpreting emotions, and seeing facial expression/ body language don’t translate, miscommunication is bound to happen unless some clearly defined steps are taken to avoid it.

Let’s use my sweet dog and baby chick situation as an example.  The picture above was one of  many in that post which showed our daughters holding the baby chicks, and our yellow lab peeking into the box of chicks. I closed the post with the title in bold BEAUTY or BEDLAM? (with a picture of the lab looking like it could get the chick.)

I went to sleep “knowing” my readers would just love that post, and I smiled thinking about how cute it was.  Anyone following my blog regularly, knew that we have five children, a sweet yellow lab, and raised chicks. Most of my readers also knew that I shared our bedlam moments, out of much fun and humor.

In my mind, I posted those pictures assuming the sarcasm clearly communicated. I mean, would I ever post a picture like that if our dog really did eat the chick? Of course not, but obviously, when all the back ground information isn’t clearly stated (like the fact that the yellow lab pushed each chick back into the box and never once put one in harms way), the tendency is for people to take ques from their own life or make assumptions to fill in their mental picture based on what they are reading. I had forgotten that there are first time visitors to my blog or people that don’t know my story.

In this instance, a few didn’t see the humor and immediately jumped to their own conclusions without asking me to clarify before responding. Their responses were written out of deep emotions, and therefore translated in very hurtful ways to me. That was my first hard life lesson when it came to on-line communication in the world of blogging, and I wish I could say my last, but that’s not the case.


When dealing with others on-line, in any form, show GRACE!

It’s easy to hide behind our mask of anonymity and make comments that one would never make in real life.

There’s a person behind that text or email or blog with real feelings.

Feelings that get hurt, and 90% of the time, messages are sent that would never be said in real life. In the blogging world, there’s a blogger who claims, “How can they say that about me, they don’t even know me?”  Please don’t rush to judgement. Let’s err on the side of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Lots of necessary information may be missing to make a good conclusion.

Now, I love a good debate of the issues, and I honestly love hearing varying viewpoints on lots of things. Iron sharpens iron, so I never want people to censor their comments to agree with my positions, but when stating opinions, don’t attack the person, back up your opinion with facts, and always, season with grace.

I just erased some examples of the mean spirited comments that I’ve received, realizing they are not necessary. I understand that often the people writing them have some deep seeded pain in their own life that is just coming out through this venue. The point is that we teach our children this basic principle in preschool: treat others how you want to be treated, but it’s amazing to me the spiteful things that people feel empowered to share at the expense of others.

I want to be an encourager, and assume the best.  Always. I’m not always perfect at it, but blogging gives me a new perspective into people’s pain.

If dealing with a personal email on an emotional issue, WAIT to respond.

In fact, waiting a solid 24 hours is a good recommendation. So many problems occur through texting or emails because people do not wait until their feelings have been defused and they react, rather than respond.

Those rapid fire emotional reactions get us into trouble. I have been on the tale end of a few of those and they are painful. Pray about it, then sleep on it, and most likely when you wake up, your thoughts will be much clearer and you can tackle the issues more logically. Once you write your response, have another friend whose opinion you value, read it first. I’ve had many come to me for help before sending responses. I’ve been able to walk them through what needs to be edited, since I can differentiate what is still negative emotion speaking vs. fact.

Remember to use my OREO cookie approach.

Sandwich the negative issue you are confronting between two positive comments. Think of that yummy oreo, and make sure you have two compliments or encouraging words sandwiched between the negative. It goes a long way.

If possible, talk it through in real life.

In leadership, I have seen my fair share of relationships come to devastating ruin because of online miscommunication. If things are getting blown out of proportion, stop texting, stop emailing, and set up a time to talk face to face. Most do not want to do that because relationally, it’s too difficult, but it’s the right thing to do. We’ve told our teens to STOP with the texting and pick up the phone. So much harm comes to these delicate teen friendships because of misconstrued texts.

Blogging is a whole different world of online communication.

We put ourselves out there by choice and ask for people to enter into our space. Especially with a blog like mine that focuses on lifestyle issues, everyone has an opinion. One of the things I love and appreciate about my community is that people feel the freedom to voice their own opinions and often, are very helpful in the comments. While comments on the blog have slowed down, which I haven’t quite been able to pinpoint, daily discussion on my facebook page [4]occurs on varying day to day topics that I bring up, which I don’t always write about on here.

Yesterday, I shared two sentences of what I thought was a funny moment of potential bedlam with a house full of four teenagers. Our 15 year old son was about to prank our daughter by pouring a cold cup of water over her in the shower. Again, since I have all the background information available to me, I assumed it translated clearly. I knew that our shower was enclosed and that no modesty issues would be compromised. I also knew that with four teens in a house, little pranks are part of our family tapestry, and they end with giggles, some wrestling (with 3 teen boys), but always a lot of fun. I also knew that this was not done out of anger, and therefore instruction on handling anger issues in a more constructive way was not necessary. But here was my mistake,  not everyone on my facebook page would have that knowledge. Now to most of my followers, the innocent fun translated, but to others, they were clearly concerned for our childrens’ safety and self image, and disagreed with this approach.

From that situation, we can all learn, myself included. I updated my status to clarify, thinking it would be a non issue from that point forward and left home. When I logged back in, I was shocked. Comments were getting very opinionated and feelings were getting hurt (between my readers.)

My online desire is to be a place of encouragement, so for comments to turn nasty over a simple status update makes my heart hurt.

It comes back to grace.

We need to show it.  Every day, every where…in our written word. We will all make mistakes, and say things we wish we could take back, but let’s give each other room to do that, and grow from it. We all have different stories, different interpretations, and different ways that we view life circumstances. That’s what makes our community so wonderful. I may not agree with you. I may let you know that, but I will treat your story with respect, and hopefully open your eyes as well to varying points of view.

Most of you reading this can recall that exact moment when you were misunderstood through online miscommunication. I know how it hurts,  but hopefully, we can all learn from those moments and help encourage others as this virtual world only grows larger.

What insight can you share that will help us navigate the waters of online communication? I’d love to hear it.