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Shippy's avatar

Do you 'read' the tone of a question before you answer?

Asked by Shippy (9857 points ) August 20th, 2012

There is great talent on Fluther in terms of brain power, as well as great writing skills and grammar.

A thought occurred to me though, are we as great ‘readers’ ’ as we are writers? Do we hear the tone of a question?

Sometimes the writer, such as myself not being so great at it, does not convey the tone very well. In that case as a reader do you consider yourself as a person who can read ‘between’ the lines? As a good writer are you thorough with your own questions but less thorough as a reader? What would be the point then if one talent was strong and the other not?. Would it then be like a two legged stool? Any thoughts appreciated.

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19 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I try to remember at all times that one of the major limitations of a site like these is a lack of nonverbal clues of communication. I try to read in as much as possible, but I can’t see your eyes, watch for your smile etc.. I can read in some thngs, but if I’m not clear I’ll ask the writer to be sure what message they were intending to send.

wilma's avatar

I try to get the writers tone, but I’m not sure that I always get it right.
I don’t know if I am very good at conveying what I want to say. Like @Adirondackwannabe says, it’s hard to do without those clues that we have when we are face to face.

thorninmud's avatar

It’s important to me to get to know users here, at least insofar as this format allows. With time, personalities, philosophies, biographies and communication styles emerge, and I begin to get a sense of the person behind the words. When I see a question pop up from a user, my reading of the question will be informed by this mental profile I’ve pieced together.

This is an imperfect process. People are full of surprises, and any idea I have of what you’re like is bound to be hopelessly simplistic. So I try to allow for my own limitations as a people-reader, and allow for the possibility that you are about to completely surprise me.

In the case of a user that I don’t have much prior experience with, I’ll often go to their profile page and scan through previous questions and answers to try to understand them better before answering.

All that said, my answers are only partially addressed to the person who asked the question. That person will read my answer once and then get on with their life, but the answer will remain there on the web, stumbled upon by who knows who for who knows how long. I try to keep that in mind. Sometimes my answer is tailored less to the asker than to a more general reader.

bolwerk's avatar

I probably tend to focus on the semantics of statements, not the undertones/implications/subtext/connotation. I interpret data better than most people, but overlooking connotation sometimes harms me. In day to day life, I usually just have someone around who I know can catch it.

wundayatta's avatar

I read between the lines, but not for tone. I read for the facts not stated and the “real” question not asked. I read for the question that motivates this question, but that is generally not asked because the asker is too embarrassed to ask it.

So, for example, many times a story won’t make sense. But if you add some kind of mental illness or pain of some sort into the equation, it starts to make much more sense. Sometimes you have to put the questioner into another culture for the question to make sense.

There are probably dozens of these little stories behind the story that I have found I have to insert in order to do a good job answering the question. I can’t say I’ve always been right. But I can say that I’ve gotten pms thanking me for my “question behind the question” answers enough times to know I’m not making this up all the time. And a lot of those answers also get a lot of lurve. We all know it’s hard to say for sure why people give lurve, but I do think having helpful answers plays a significant role in that.

Sunny2's avatar

Sometimes subsequent comments from the person asking the question make it easier to evaluate what’s behind the question. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all understand each other better? Human communication is difficult; that’s why it’s special when people connect intuitively. Mostly it’s hit or miss and both parties have to give leeway for possible misunderstanding.

marinelife's avatar

@Shippy You’re back! I’m so happy.

Shippy's avatar

@marinelife. Yes you’re stuck with me!

flutherother's avatar

Sometimes a question is answered with little thought and little understanding of the person asking the question. I know I have upset people once or twice with my answers without meaning to.

noraasnave's avatar

I draw ‘tone’ from the root meaning of words, as well as the additional story given. I guess I assume, sometime in error, that the person writing the question chose the specific words of the question carefully and for good reason.

Sometimes I get a ‘feeling’ about the tone of a given question, and go out on a limb, offering disclaimers, and answer the question based on my feeling. If I could build up negative lurve then I would probably be able to measure how much my feelings are wrong ;).

DaphneT's avatar

I’ll pick up ‘tones’ from the words used, the sentence structure, and the cadence that I read into a question. All of that is from my knowledge base. If I’m seeking more depth to the question, I might look at the profile, checking into the writer’s other questions and answers, which topics they’ve accrued, who they are following and any other information I can find.

I’ll get it wrong as often as right, but I am responding to the question as written using whatever knowledge I have. If I believe that my knowledge base lines up with the content of the question, I’ll give it a go.

keobooks's avatar

I try to, but sometimes I miss the mark. I have made tasteless jokes when someone was earnest. I’ve also taken things seriously when they were meant to be funny. I usually do the former. I will either slink out of the thread and hide a bit or I’ll post an “Oops I goofed” and hope for the best.

What I try to do sometimes is be sensitive without being too touchy feely. I read a post where the person was earnest, but asked a really whacked up crazy question. It was tempting to make fun of him, but I sensed he was slightly schizotypical (which basically and loosely means a little too weird to called eccentric) and I decided to not make fun of him. But I did ask him a lot of questions because it’s not often you meet someone with cool ideas that while a bit… nuts… are very interesting ideas and views on the world.

DigitalBlue's avatar

I try. I often fail.

I fail miserably at conveying tone. People misread my tone online regularly, it has gotten me into quite a few fights. I don’t think my personality translates well into text, because I don’t have nearly as many misunderstandings in face to face interactions. I think I have an odd personality, period, and people tend to file things into familiar or assumed categories… especially when there is less reference (like online), and that doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes I don’t think that I have a firm grasp on a lot of social nuances, and that affects me in both trying to convey and decode tones in text.

keobooks's avatar

I wish I could control the tone other people read into my posts. On another forum I mentioned that I thought a certain baby product was crappy and useless. Then I mention that there were some parents that used the product incorrectly and were hurting their kids with it.

Somehow a group of moms got the idea that I said anyone who owned the product was a child abuser. I still wonder how I bungled that one up.

Shippy's avatar

@keobooks . Sorry had a giggle at that. It is amazing how things can get lost in translation!

DaphneT's avatar

@keobooks, if that’s all you said then you aren’t the one who bungled that up. Media reports have put a fear into parents the like of which we’ve didn’t see before the 1960s. Nowadays, parents are forced to question everything they feel, think, do, every minute, every day. Simultaneously they are not being told that for the most part they are doing an okay job. You were just in a no-win environment.

keobooks's avatar

@DaphneT – Quickly so I don’t derail too badly. I do notice you have to be careful on parenting sites. If you are too joyous about being a stay at home mom, the working moms automatically think you’re telling everyone that they are not good parents because they don’t stay home. If you talk about the joys of working, the stay at home moms get defensive and think you’re calling them lazy. If you get too excited about breastfeeding, moms who formula feed think you’re cracking on them.

I usually try to lay low because I’ve seen blow ups like this before where someone said something and got in trouble. I just didn’t think saying that this one crappy piece of plastic wasn’t worth buying meant that if you DID buy it, you were a bad parent.

——-
To get more or less back on topic, I think you have to do more than just read the tone of the post. Sometimes it’s good to check the tone of the forum in general. Some things that will fly on other sites bring down the wrath of the moderators on other. Some sites you can let a little politics or religion bleed through in a debate – and other sites even hinting around about those topics will start a riot in the thread.

I flagged a post here for being trolling or flame bait once and it stayed up. If it had been asked on Askville, it would have been a troll of a question and would have stirred up a bunch of flames and controversy. But people stayed nice and civil here on that thread. So the question itself wasn’t flame bait or trolling – but it would have been on another site because of the general tone set there.

Kardamom's avatar

I try to take the Q’s at face value, but sometimes the words in the questions don’t match up, or make sense. Then I ask for clarification. Sometimes I get clarification from the OP and that is very helpful.

Sometimes I get snarky remarks from an OP when I’ve asked for clarificiation. It is in those times when I get the impression that the OP really didn’t want a real answer to the Q, but rather he/she wanted to get attention or a pity party for something that they, in part, caused themselves. The last couple of Q’s like that did not end well for the OP’s.

I understand that some Jellies have a difficult time putting their thoughts into words, for a whole host of reasons. That’s why I always ask for clarification if I don’t understand something.

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