Example situation

Let's suppose Peter and John are arguing about something via instant messaging chat (nobody is getting angry, but John gets way too fast and misinterprets what Peter said):

Peter: I believe step 1 can be easily replaced by more efficient algorithm

John: I'm afraid the interface does not suit our needs (doesn't have anything to do with step 1, completely disregards it)

Peter: I specifically mentioned the step 1, which seems unrelated to the implementation.


What should John say now, Given that John is in a bad shape, e.g. lack of sleep, tiredness?

My approach

I would say:

John: I apologize for missing the context, I'm not in a good shape these days.

Is this a good idea? When I have done this, people have said that they didn't find it offending at all, though my guess is that it is mutual politeness. Would situation change if it would be verbal communication instead of texting?

John and Peter are in work relationships, or possibly they are two SE network users (excluding overcrowded sites like SO). As a result, each side has no idea what country the other is from.

Of course, the best way would be to go to sleep, but I spend most of my time on SE, as I find it more entertaining and fun than anything else. I gain invaluable skills too.

  • As I understand it, John is tired and sleepy, so his point was not clear to Peter before Peter gave his response?
    – NVZ
    Aug 27, 2017 at 10:07
  • @NVZ, John was too tired to see "step 1", so he thought it applies to the whole solution. He thought that Peter wants to change entire solution. Aug 27, 2017 at 10:15
  • Could you add some location/cultural data?
    – user288
    Aug 27, 2017 at 13:26
  • Is this done via chat? Are you referring to workmates, or two users of SE sites?
    – Vylix
    Aug 27, 2017 at 15:24
  • @Vylix, I hoped that fast paced is gonna mean chat. I'll edit it into the question. Aug 28, 2017 at 6:15

4 Answers 4


It has happened to me at times on Stack Exchange in particular, where I'm discussing something with another user, but I'm too tired and it's very late in my timezone, so my words might appear terse or lacking enough clarity.

What I did on such occasions is to somehow get back to a previous save point in our discussion if possible, that is, to something which we both sort of understand and agree on.

Then I'd say that it's really late here, and I'll get back to it the next day or later.

In case I see that the other user is upset with the way I said something, I'd just apologize for it.

I'm sorry. I may not have explained it well. I was too tired earlier. Here's what I actually meant to say... (explanation here)

And if possible, I'll then write a clearer explanation of my points.

This is usually in chat rooms. Also, it's not a frequently occurring thing, for me.

So, here in the example provided, John -the tired one- should be the one to apologize for not being clear on his part.

  • Coming back to a checkpoint is a great idea. I'll probably try to practice this approach. Aug 27, 2017 at 10:17
  • The other thing is not at all to dismiss somebody's point of view unless we are absolutely sure it is illogical, @Incomputable. I got into a few arguments in my first 2 months of joining Stack Exchange through English.SE in April 2017, but was able to soon realise that almost everybody is making a valid point, if only I could understand it myself. There is nothing wrong with apologising for 'being too tired to see that point' as recommended in NVZ's expert answer; and the other user will most probably appreciate our humility and honesty. Moreover such explanation is part of the etiquette here. Aug 27, 2017 at 14:41

I have found that instead of saying sorry, it may be beneficial to say thank you instead. As per your example, instead of apologizing for your misunderstanding you could say "I missed the earlier context, thank you for correcting me."

I find this lets the responding person not have to worry about saying "no problem" or responding to the apology.

  • When you mess up and someone corrects you, say thanks. Awesome. Everyone makes mistakes, only some people will correct you when you do.
    – jmoreno
    Oct 22, 2017 at 13:00

One friend once started our problematic conversation over again with the phrase, "I'm afraid I'm not communicating well today".

English is well suited to explain many levels of understanding and misunderstanding. All that is needed for etiquette is a willingness to put such words together.


This is extremely easy to do, especially in a medium such as electronic chat where you can be responding to items completely out of order, and typing a response at the same time another is typing a response.

When something like this occurs, as you state, simply saying something along the lines of "Hey, I'm tired/not feeling well/inattentive right now. Let's back up a bit, you said X about this issue? Ok, here's my response."

That way they know you aren't ignoring them, you just aren't in a mental state to be able to handle two or three different response threads at the same time. You also let them know which topic you are on, which gives them a chance to response in the same vein.

If they introduce another topic, just again remind them that you can't really concentrate on both right now, so unless it is a relevant point, you want to finish with the first topic before moving on. Make some notes, so that you can revisit the other topics once you've finished with the topic at hand.

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