A couple of days ago, Dave sent me an email asking, "What is your favorite color?" While I suspect this question might ultimately be the impetus for a selection of a birthday gift this month, my first and only thought was, "It depends". Here is a sample of the email trail that ensued.
Dave: What is your favorite color? Don't ask why---just answer the question.
Shelly: "But it depends on for what?
Color of walls---neutrals.
Color of golf attire---pinks or purples
Color of food---not green, apparently
Color of Labrador Retrievers---yellow
Color of eyes---yours."
Dave: (after a massive eye roll, I'm certain): You must be an author because I asked a simple question and got a book! Simple question, what is your favorite color.
Shelly: Not simple--- it just really depends....
Favorite color for flowers---all flowers, trees and bushes sans bees and snakes
Favorite color for javelina---none
Favorite color for cheese enchiladas---yellow and chili-colored
Favorite color for car----new car smell
Favorite color for husband---you.
Dave: Never mind. I'll figure it out.
I realize that I'll be lucky if I get anything for my birthday, now, but I couldn't help but think the idea of "context matters" applies to so many conversations, and it reminds me once again that it isn't just what we say but how we say it that makes all the difference in the world.
In my book club, we were discussion Jo Jo Moyes "Last Letter From Your Lover" and the topic of letter writing was brought up in such a nostalgic way, an unknowing visitor to our book club would have thought an old friend had recently passed away. I guess, in a way, that is precisely what has happened. The old friend of letter writing is harder to find than my earring backs. Replacing letter writing is quick and dirty email or text message.
A friend of mine had been telling me I was insane for having not yet applied for TSA Pre-Check. Once I finally applied and got it (as an aside, I WAS insane for not doing this earlier), I texted her "TSA Pre-check". She texted back "I already have it." Right. I thought. I need to put the idea back in context.
Even a simple and innocent "LOL" can be misconstrued if we aren't sure what the person is LOL'ing about. We need the context for the reason someone is humored, sometimes, especially if you have a literal person texting with a figurative person (see my last blog).
My mother was an avid letter writer and my Godparents used to say, "Helen's writing is so descriptive, romantic and beautiful. I would recognize her letters anywhere." The same cannot likely be said about people's emails or texts (i.e. "I would know that TTYL anywhere")
Context can make the difference between someone worrying without cause and feeling completely at ease. Take for example the following email statement: "We need to talk later." Time and time again, I hear people say they have spun themselves into a frenzy when they receive an email like this.
1. Does he want to break up with me?
2. Did my boss get a complaint about me?
3. Have I disappointed you in some way?
Just adding a tag line to that statement could make a big difference.
"We need to talk later about whether we want to continue subscribing to Direct TV."
No panic, no frenzy needed.
Just for today, perhaps consider rereading your texts or emails to see if they have said anything evasive that needs clarification. Your clarification might save a tremendous amount of miscommunication in the long run.