You Can’t Make Them Mean What You Want!

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more not less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is who’s to be the master, that’s all.”

(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass)

How many times has someone misunderstood your letter, email, fax, instant message, or other piece of written communication? And how indignant were you when they did? “Well, that wasn’t what I meant!” you probably exclaimed in irritation.

It’s a fairly common scenario, made even more so by the speed at which electronic communications can be sent, and the fact—usually overlooked—that tone of voice conveys far more meaning than we think it does. How often have we unintentionally offended, confused,hurt, or angered other people who are reading our communications? And why is it that we automatically assume it to be their fault—that they, somehow, “took it wrong?”

Well, I’m here to tell you that the fault lies in the communicator, not the one communicated with. It takes just another moment to read through your writing to make sure that it cannot be misunderstood. If there’s anything that could even remotely be misconstrued, err on the side of caution, assume that it will be, and rephrase. This is especially important when you’re sending out emailings to a number of people: augmenting the list of recipients merely multiplies the possibilities of being misunderstood.

You do everything else in a professional manner: make sure that your writing reflects your professionalism as well. Don’t try, with Humpty Dumpty, to make words mean what you want them to. In the end, the only thing you’ll be hurting is your own business.