I received a text from my roommate yesterday regarding a disagreement we had about apartment chores (washing dishes, vacuuming, etc.). I had voiced an opinion earlier in the week to all of my roommates about how I felt like I am the always the one who is forced to do the majority of the cleaning in the apartment. It often feels like sometimes nobody else is willing to step up and take on the task of doing house work, unless it is their particular mess they are cleaning up. One of my roommates, in particular, was concerned after the conversation had concluded and wanted to follow up with a text asking if we could continue discussing the topic via text. I responded with a text saying "I feel like I am not appreciated and I clean too much all by myself". He responded with, "What can I do about it...?"
At first, while glancing at his reply, I was immediately filled with rage. I interpreted his text to be irritated and unhelpful, as if he were expressing that there was not really anything he could do in the situation. How could this be? There were many things he could do. All I was asking for was some assistance and appreciation. Why would he say such a thing? This conversation turned out to be a very telling experience demonstrating the significance of extralinguistic information, such as nonverbal cues (facial expression, posture, gestures). My roommate, in fact, was not trying to be rude or unapologetic. On the contrary, he had meant to pose the question "What can I do about it...?" in a way that was attempting to be apologetic and helpful. He wanted to know what I sincerely thought would be the best way for him to remedy the situation. If I had witnessed an accurate display of his facial expressions and gestures during the asking of this question, rather than simply the words in a phone message, I definitely would have spared myself all of the anger, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings. Chapter 8 of the textbook explains how extralinguistic information serves as an "Overall Dining Experience". (p. 288) Language is not as self-explanatory as we often perceive it to be. This is the reason why virtual communication can be so misleading and detrimental to relationships. We take this additional information for granted. Although not a part of language, extralinguistic information plays a vital role in the interpretation of it. (p. 288)