I’ve sent out emails that I thought were confident and business-like, and others that I thought were funny. But sometimes I was wrong. The business-like emails came across sounding harsh, and the funny ones, well, weren’t so funny. Have you ever opened an email and thought the sender sounded angry, rude or condescending? You may have been right, or wrong, but you can’t be sure if it was intended to be an offensive email.
The fact is, managing your tone in an email is difficult because your reader can’t “see” the emotions behind the words – facial expressions, gestures and other non- verbal cues – as well as hearing the tone of voice.
So when writing an email, choose your words carefully so you don’t risk damaging relationships with clients and colleagues. And watch out for perceived underlying messages that can get you in trouble. For example:
Emailer: “Am I missing something? I couldn’t understand your project update. Where are you going with this”? The message: You seem to be incapable of writing a coherent report.
Better choice: “Can you please clarify a few points so I have a better understanding of your project update? Thanks.”
Emailer: “You haven’t approved our marketing plan, which was emailed two weeks ago. Since this must be submitted in three days, please submit ASAP! I’m attaching it again.” The message: I’m not sure you’re competent enough to manage this.
Better choice: “In order to meet our deadline in three days, please approve the attached marketing plan by the close of business tomorrow. Thank you.”
Emailer: “Dude – Wanna let you know we’re gonna meet with that prospect next week! How cool is that? I sent the deets to you in a brief yesterday, which you should of read by now. Let’s talk about how we’re gonna snap into the presentation.” The message: I’m a slacker who can’t compose a serious email.
Better choice: “I’m excited – we scheduled an appointment with _______ next week. Please make sure you’ve read the detailed brief I sent you yesterday, and let’s discuss our plan for the meeting. Let me know when you’re available. Thanks.”
Our day-to-day work lives are stressful and sometimes your colleagues and clients can annoy you. Controlling the tone of your emails in this condition isn’t easy. To protect yourself, write and save the email, and then take a long moment or two to calm down (better yet, go out for a few minutes to get some air or a cup of coffee) and re-read it. I suggest reading it aloud to hear the tone, and then fix it. It doesn’t hurt to run it by a trusted friend or colleague, to be sure.
If you follow these tips, you’ll go a long way to avoid an unnecessary backlash or any misunderstandings. Most important, you’ll protect your good reputation and professionalism.