Psychology of how one writes…to smiley or not to smiley…that is the question

16 Oct

It sounds odd to combine psychology/counseling and writing, but the ever increasing presence of online counseling via chat rooms and email correspondence illustrates a need to understand how phraseology impacts client receptiveness of the message delivered.  Phraseology involves the idea that it’s not what you say; but rather, how you say it.  There is a difference between jokingly saying “you’re an idiot” in reference to a friend’s comical antics, and “you’re an idiot…”

In the “…” we can almost hear an exasperated pause.  In writing or comunicating online, understanding the potential implications for one’s words is even more important.  There is no “sarcastic” or “joking” tone of voice in text.  For an excellent article on the psychology of writing please click HERE.

(Thoughts on the implications of student work in writing, social networking, and professional development after the jump.)

As a graduate student and a major techno-fiend, writing plays a vital role in my social life/hobbies/and academic work.  A smiley face which might be acceptable on Facebook or in a blog post does not translate into academic writing 🙂  When asking a colleague an emotionally charged or personal question for a class assignment, not having that smiley face available can change how one phrases the question.

For example, imagine you have to interview someone online about a family trauma:

Informally, one might type – “Why do you think you’ve allowed **blank** to affect your relationship with your children? I appreciate your feedback 🙂 ”

The smiley face takes the edge off of the emotionally charged topic and allows the reader of the question to understand that the writer’s intent is benign.

Formally one would have to phrase the same question differently –  “Why do you think you’ve allowed **blank** to affect your relationship with your children?  I really would like to understand more about this, and want to make sure I understand the family dynamics properly.  Your time and patience with me is greatly appreciated.”

The same question is asked in a way that would comply with academic writing or professional writing.  The question is followed by clarification on why it is being asked as well as with written sentiments expressing the benign intent/appreciation (which the smiley encompassed in the informal writing).

How not to get your point across – “Why do you think you’ve allowed **blank** to affect your relationship with your children?  Didn’t you think that wouldn’t be the smartest move you could have made? It’s awesome that you’re being so open with your family history, but honestly I can’t understand your actions!?!”

Same exact question, yet the writer includes words anti that behavior in question such as “smartest move.”  That word choice infers that the writer views the reader as “dumb.”  The writer then proceeds to “thank” the reader for sharing, but then states that he/she does not understand what is being shared.  The words “I don’t understand your…” are confrontational.  They imply that not only does the writer think the reader is dumb; but also, is “wrong.”  An alternative phrasing that would have worked better might be as follows:

Why do you think you’ve allowed **blank** to affect your relationship with your children?  Is there anything you could have/would do differently if you could do it over?  Thank you again for talking with me about such a difficult/emotional topic.

See the difference between all the examples???

It’s all about the point-of-view / tone that YOU wish to convey!!!


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