Why 'Bless Your Heart' may not mean what you think it does
Updated: Oct 7
Growing up in the South, one of the things I heard frequently was "bless your heart" or "bless their hearts." Now that I'm older, I say this a lot and people almost inevitably say, "I know what that means." They seem to think it's a euphemism, a "nice" way of saying something sarcastic or insulting or disdainful.
But "Bless Your Heart" doesn't have to mean that at all. In fact, it can mean any number of things depending on who's saying it, to whom (or about whom) they're saying it, the tone of voice, and the context.
My mother, for example, never, to my knowledge, said "Bless Your Heart" with anything but total sincerity. For her, bless your heart meant that she was sorry for what you were going through and hoped that all would turn out for the best. It was almost like a prayer.
Sometimes, when someone has done something bone-headed, "Bless Your Heart" is a nice way of saying, "Maybe you should go back to bed and start over." Sometimes, when someone has made the same mistake again and again, "Bless Your Heart" means, "It's so sad that you can't seem to get yourself out of this loop."
I'll admit that, sometimes, "Bless Your Heart" is said straight-faced to someone who's just too dumb to function, but it's just as likely to be a way to convey affection and empathy. It's all about who's talking, the relationships involved, and the tone.
I write a lot about creating content, and of course, much of that is in the form of written communication, whether it's a website, blog post, social media caption or what have you. What we say, who we're saying it to, our intentions and emotions — all of these play a part in conveying tone.
The challenge, then, is making sure that your tone matches your intention and conveys more than just words. In the case of real estate professionals and other entrepreneurs, whether writing for lead gen, marketing, or correspondence with a colleague, tone can make the difference between effective communication and a deal-breaker.
What's the difference between tone and mood?
Tone is the emotion or attitude behind what you're saying or writing. Mood is the feeling it generates in the reader or listener. When you're face-to-face, you can convey tone through your facial expressions, body language, and the sound of your voice.
In written communication, however, these are missing, leaving room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
For example, imagine that you text a colleague and ask them to meet one of your buyers since you've had an unexpected client need come up elsewhere. Now, imagine that colleague replies simply, "Okay".
That could mean:
Okay, no problem. I'm happy to help.
Okay, you've just made my day so much more difficult.
Okay [with no feelings one way or another]
Now, what if the person just answers "K"? I've known many people who text "K" and mean absolutely nothing by it, while others think it is the most devastating insult possible.
Now, what if the person answers "Okay!" That's completely different, right? This is probably why so many of us overuse exclamation points in texts and emails — It's an attempt to ensure that our written communication sounds friendly and enthusiastic so that there's no possibility of misinterpretation.
Make sure you're effectively conveying tone in your writing
If you want to make sure your tone matches your intention (and creates the mood you're going for), here are some things to pay attention to:
Watch your words. Try to avoid ambiguity or general statements that can be taken in a number of different ways. Words like "great" or "interesting" can sound either positive or negative, sincere or sarcastic. Instead of "interesting," for example, "exciting" can convey a more positive tone while "problematic" can convey your concerns.
Use punctuation and emojis. While you don't want to overuse them, a well-placed exclamation point or happy face can help convey the tone you want. Beware of ellipses, which can sound ominous, or a thumbs-up emoji, which can sometimes look sarcastic to younger readers.
Provide context as needed. Instead of a brief, standalone word or phrase that is open to misinterpretation, provide a little bit of additional information to clarify the context of your message. "Thank you so much" as a standalone sounds really positive, but if it follows: "Once again, you've made my day more difficult," the sarcastic intention is clear.
Ask for clarification. If you're on the receiving end of a message that seems negative or sarcastic, especially if your communications with that person are normally positive, ask them to clarify before you put them on blast.
Consider your audience. Are you writing to people who are younger or older? Are you writing to a large audience with a variety of backgrounds or a very specific, tailored, niche audience? The assumptions you can make about context may change depending on the reader.
More than anything, it's important to practice empathy as a writer. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and think about how they will see your writing. Are you answering their questions? Are you providing the information they need? Are you talking down to them or over their head?
At the end of the day, it's the way you care about others that impacts the way you communicate. Like my mother, who never said "Bless Your Heart" with anything but love in her own heart, when you care about the people you're talking to and writing for, your communication improves and your sincerity shines through.