Missing the meaning

July 23, 2010
By Denise Ciardello and Janice JanssenFacial expressions are valuable tools when one human is communicating with another. Raised eyebrows show surprise, an open mouth and eyes signify disbelief, and a wink is flirting or pulling one’s leg. You can tell when someone doesn’t quite get your point because squinting eyes and a furrowed brow indicate that the person is thinking (or that the sun is shining brightly!). Beyond facial expressions is body language. Arms crossed over the chest could mean the person is closed to what you are saying, bored, mad, or possibly just cold, but you can’t really tell without looking at the face. Applause is typically the outward symbol of approval; however, if the clapping is performed slowly with a sneer on the face, it is meant as a sarcastic gesture. Another valuable tool when communicating is verbal language, yet that too needs more than words for full understanding. When a sentence is spoken, emphasis is placed on the word or phrase and that adds meaning to the statement. As an example, take the following question: “What is your name?” Say it out loud four times and each time put the accent on a different word within the sentence. Do you see how the meaning changes each time? Now add in facial expressions and body language and you can determine if it’s just an information gathering question or if the inquirer is mad, frustrated, or being sarcastic.If it takes all these visual and verbal signs to understand the meaning of a simple question, how can we possibly communicate effectively with mere written words? People have devised a method by developing symbols, or emoticons, to help us express our meaning a bit more clearly. For instance, :) is a smile. Other electronic emotions include: :( frown :-P playful, silly <3 love ;) winking (Ironically, a 20-something was heard recently stating that he didn’t know that the semicolon had a purpose except for making a wink.)How many times has the meaning of a sentence or even an entire e-mail been misinterpreted because there were no facial expressions to decipher, or body language to assist with the connotation? Emoticons can help convey meaning when e-mailing, but are they enough? Keep in mind also that if the e-mail is being read on a mobile device, many times the emoticon many not show up properly, if at all.Emotions are contagious. We communicate in many ways, not just with words but also with facial expressions, body language, and the tone in our voices. Have you ever experienced the change in an attitude by sharing a smile? One person may comfort another at a sad time with a gentle pat on the shoulder and a sympathetic look; a calm voice and a genuine smile may be the exact emotion needed to diffuse anger or frustration.Can those things truly be accomplished with a simple emoticon? A thought is being typed by one person, yet the receiver of the thought may be emphasizing a different word in the sentence, thereby giving it an entirely new implication, possibly sarcasm (:-7) or worse.It is important to remember that in our fast and furious lifestyle, our words are not always read in the same tone that they were written. This is especially significant when writing to someone we do not know very well or with a business dealing. Although we do not think we have the time, picking up the phone may be just what is needed to allow someone to receive your true, genuine intent. Words are so powerful in written or spoken form and emotions are the way we send and receive the words properly. On the flip side, when sending an e-mail or text, we have the ability to erase words before they are sent. Rereading is priceless and always recommended. Remember, once you throw that stone, you can never take it back.Denise Ciardello and Janice Janssen are respected professionals in the dental consulting industry and the co-founders of Global Team Solutions, a practice management consulting firm specializing in team building and team training. They can be reached at [email protected] or (314) 644-8424; or [email protected] or (210) 862-9445.