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[at-l] The Anatomy of Flame Wars (was: Evidence Of Trailplace Effectiveness)

As everyone (I think) knows, I am thoroughly tired of the whole WF topic, so
this post has little to do with Wingfoot or RoksnRoots.  What it does have
to do with is communication, or, if you prefer, miscommunication.  I could
just have well used Linda's adventures in recipe posting, but this not
happened to come along.

Here's a question: what are the chances that I could say ANYTHING meaningful
to a group of several hundred people and have all of them:

(1) understand what I said.
(2) understand the tone in which it was written.
(3) agree with me.

I think the chances are near zero.

Ok... so suppose I make a post:

    From: Jim
    Subject: [at-l] The sky

    The sky is blue!

Now, what I really meant was "It is a beautiful day outside here in
Rochester, NY.  It's been overcast for the last week, and I'm really looking
forward to some nice weather."

So, somewhere out there in netland, say Atlanta, Orangebug reads my post [by
the way, Orangebug has nothing to do with this post... I'm just pretty sure
that he'll get it and won't mind my using his name].  He is kind of tired
and bummed out after a long day at work.  On top of that, he just read the
weather forecast for the weekend... a tropical storm is going to dump twelve
inches of rain right where he was planning to go hiking.  His trip is a
washout.  He sends a reply:

    From: Orangebug
    Subject: Re: [at-l] The sky

    Posts like yours make me sick.

Now, what he really meant was "The weather's lousy here and I'm really
bummed out about having to cancel my trip.  I wish it was nice here too!"
He may even have realized that he should have stuck on a smily face, but
what's done is done.

Ok... now I see Orangebug's post.  I don't know how he was feeling.  I don't
know the weather in Atlanta.  All I know is what I see.

I have several choices:

(1) Boy, Orangebug is upset about something today.
(2) Orangebug is a jerk.
(3) Orangebug hated my post.
(4) Orangebug hates me.
(5) The AT-L hates my post.
(6) The AT-L hates me.
(7) There was something really wrong with my post.
(8) The weather is nasty in Atlanta and Orangebug's hike got cancelled.

My choice depends on my mood, my previous interactions with Orangebug, and
my relation to the entire list.  Knowing Orangebug (or at least having seen
his posts), I'd probably settle on #1.  But suppose I'm a new poster, am not
familiar with the list, and am not feeling particularly confident... I might
settle on #7.  Suppose I've had a lot of nasty interactions with Orangebug
in the past... I might pick #2.  Suppose I've been engaged in a controversy
with many people on the list, I might pick #5, or even #6.

The chances of my picking #7 is pretty small.  Suppose I pick #3 or #4.  I
send a message:

    From: Jim
    Subject: Re: [at-l] The Sky

    You are always knocking people down.  Go chill out and take a hike.

What I mean is "I feel hurt right now.  I was feeling good about our
beautiful weather, and when you told me that my post 'made you sick' I lost
that feeling.  I would like you to be careful of my feelings when you send
me messages."

Orangebug is going to have to be feeling very centered today to have any
chance of figuring out what I was really trying to say.

Back to the list.  Linda's recent recipe problem sounds like she did a #7
above.  Actually, I have no idea what is going on in Linda's head!  She
could be new to lists and really think that there was something wrong with
her post.  She could be trolling for sympathy.  I don't know, but since I
don't I'll choose to assume the #7.

I would guess that when RoksnRoots said "the AT*L response" in response to
Saunterer's post, he was doing a #6.  Of course I don't know that, but he
HAS been at the center of a flame war lately, so it seems like a good bet.

My personal opinion is that both RoksnRoots original "Evidence of Trailplace
Effectiveness" and Saunterer's response were honest posts.  I think that
RoksnRoots has not demonstrated an understanding of why so many people on
the AT-L have lost their respect for Dan Bruce.  I also think that
Saunterer's post was almost guaranteed to provoke a heated response, and I
practically KNOW that RoksnRoots latest post will provoke one.

Look at the language.  Saunterer said "But there's no point in restating it
all.  You're obviously still not listening."  YOU'RE OBVIOUSLY STILL NOT
LISTENING!  Does that make you want to listen?  Or do you feel attacked?
Why would you even want to listen to someone who's attacking you?

Look at the language.  RoksnRoots said "I find it unbearably dishonest..."
and "It is obvious to me that no possible...".  Is Saunterer likely to
respond positively when he's just been called dishonest and unreasonable?
Actually, when RoksnRoots goes on to talk about the "AT*L response" he is in
danger of having lots of people on the AT-L feel like he just called them
dishonest and unreasonable.

This message is way too long, so I'll end it by listing "Jim's unordered
observations about communication":

(1) Ryan's five minute rule is a good one.
(2) Don't assume that other people know what you are feeling.
(3) Realize that there may be multiple interpretations of posts and spend
some time figuring out what they are.  It's more fun that doing crossword
(4) Don't make assumptions.  Ask questions.
(5) If someone's post bothers you write about your own feelings, not about
"what they did wrong."
(6) Go look up "I Statements" and continue looking until they make sense.  I
just took a quick look and like the page
http://home.earthlink.net/~hopefull/i-statem.htm .  It has a nice, four
part, way of formulating them that I've seen elsewhere as well.
(7) Remember that "I think you are a jerk" is not an "I statement!"
(8) "Honesty" does not imply a disregard for other people's feelings.  I've
seen too many people use the "truth" of their statements to excuse the hurt
that they cause.  It is almost always possible to tell the truth in ways
that are respectful of peoples feelings.
(9) People use more than words to communicate.  They use body language,
facial expressions, tone of voice, and probably pheromones for all I know to
get their meaning across.  Only the word show up in email.
(10) People can communicate because they develop a mental model of what the
other person is saying and feeling.  We do this so naturally that we aren't
even aware of it.  The down side is that if the mental model is wrong it is
almost impossible to figure out what the other person is saying.
(11) Without body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and maybe
even pheromones it is very easy to get the model wrong.
(12) Many of the techniques of formal writing arose to compensate for the
lack of body language, etc. in written communication.  That's why written
language and spoken language are so different.
(13) Remember that email is written communication, even though it feels very
informal and immediate.
(14) Irony does NOT come across well in email posts.
(15) Smily faces are helpful, but are not a replacement for courtesy and
well thought out writing.

Yours longwindedly,

-- Jim

----- Original Message -----
From: <RoksnRoots@aol.com>
To: <bullard@northnet.org>
Cc: <AT-L@mailman.backcountry.net>
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2001 12:59 AM
Subject: Re: [at-l] Evidence Of Trailplace Effectiveness

> In a message dated 6/18/01 8:25:12 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
> bullard@northnet.org writes:
> << I get similar replies to letters that I write directly to my
>  congressmember, senator, etc.  I can't remember how many times I've "made
>  real difference".  That doesn't mean that I can claim or deserve sole
>  credit (or blame, depending on your point-of-view) for the outcome.  It's
>  called courtesy.  You write nice letters to supporters thanking them for
>  their assistance.  Again, you're missing the point.  No one said he did
>  nothing.  But there's no point in restating it all.  You're obviously
>  not listening. >>
>     I'm tired so I'll try and answer. I find it unbearably dishonest to
> demand proof, then get it, and still come up with the same old denials
> were answered to by the begged proof. I appears that Wingfoot could come
> off the mountain with Abraham Lincoln's ghost vouching for him and the
> response would be that he faked it. It is obvious to me that no possible