My brother and I almost broke up over email. Well, instant messenger and then email.

We IM all the time. We joke. We play. We tease. It’s what we do. Only I joked with him one day, while we were discussing a tough family issue, and he misconstrued it and it went outrageously, quickly downhill from there. The IMs got tenser. The emails got curter…and meaner.

I teach this stuff. I tell clients all the time that email has no “tone” and can therefore be easily misread and misunderstood. IM is the same thing. My brother read my joke as serious, immediately got serious, and the next thing you know we were slamming each other. Our relationship nearly soured, if not actually ended, at least for awhile.

It’s extremely easy to get off-target when we use electronic forms of communication, and can be really tough to get back. The good news is that he and I finally managed to get on the phone to “work things out.” The not as good news is that we apparently both have a habit of interrupting each other, especially when a conversation is emotional. Our phone call was also going steadily downhill and the break up between us was becoming more imminent.

Which is when I came up with this very bizarre and silly idea…but it worked. We decided that each of us would have to say “beep” when we were done with our comment or thought. The other person could not respond, reply, break in, or even ask a question until they heard the word “beep.” It was stupid, but it worked. It allowed us to give each other space to think and talk, and it allowed us to truly hear each other, and it allowed us to find a place to agree again and begin to rebuild our trust and love.

I don’t recommend everyone using “beep.” Maybe there is an easier way for two people to truly hear each other, even when emotions are high. But desperate times require desperate measures, and “beep” definitely worked for us.

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