I’d like to take a few minutes to remind people of something that I think they all know, but might have not had in the front of their mind recently:

Different types of communication have different amounts of information bandwidth.

  • If you are talking in person, face to face with someone, you have a lot of bandwith. You can hear the tone in their voice, see if they are smiling or frowning. Hear if they are yelling. See if they are slouching or waving their hands a lot. See if they blink, look away or frown at you. You can get a lot of information from an in person conversation, and most of us have been doing it all our lives, so we pick up on subtle cues without thinking about it.
  • If you are talking to someone on the phone you have less bandwith. You can now not use any of the visual ques. You can still however listen to tone of voice, volume and laughing/crying/sobbing. Most of us have spent time on the phone and pick up on these clues pretty easily as well.
  • If you are exchanging emails with a list or persons, you now have even less bandwith. You can use things like 🙁 or 🙂 and you do have time to think and be more deliberate with what words you use (if you choose to), but you have no tone of voice or visual clues. Just the words.
  • Finally, if you are communicating with someone via irc or other IM/chat you have even less bandwith. Here people are expecting you to just blurt out your thoughts without much editing or consideration (unlike email). You have no sight or sound to help you, as well as no time to carefully consider your response.

To quote the freenode channel guidelines:

Look for the best in people. If you assume people have no self-control, they’ll confirm your belief. If you look for personal responsibility, and ask for personal responsibility, most people will respond well.

Set a good example. Be what you want other people to be. If you want them to be calm, be calm. If you want them to be courteous and friendly, be courteous and friendy. The habitual behavior of people on a channel is the most powerful influence on newbies arriving on the channel.
I think this is great advice for all the communications mediums above, and would like to remind people to keep in mind the bandwith involved when you are replying to someone. They may well have not said what you think they said, or at least not the way you think they meant it.