Here’s a strange question for you: How does your email sound?
On one hand, it’s kind of a silly question—there is no sound, email is just words on a screen. If you’re honest though, you know that you can often “hear” the other party in their email, almost as if they were speaking to you.
In creative writing, we often speak about “voice.” Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character. While we don’t think about it, the same is true of our everyday business communication. We all have a voice, but is it the one we want our audience to “hear”?
When people read your email, what does your voice sound like?
Tone in our written communication matters. If we come across as too stern, or as rude, or as inappropriately informal, it can impact whether or not our reader takes the action we need, and our work gets done.
One of my co-workers recently said something interesting. “I notice that when I write emails and I’m smiling, my document has a different tone than if I’m not.” Sales people know this to be true and many of us keep a mirror on our desk. We smile before they pick up the phone and this affects the way they come across to the customer.
Some of the things that impact the tone of our email include:
- The greeting sets the tone. (we used to call it the salutation back in the day). “Dear Sir, “sounds very different from “Hi, Marlene.” Sometimes one is more appropriate than another, depending on the situation.
- How much context we give the readers impacts how it’s received. “We need this by noon” sounds very different than, “in order to meet our deadline, we have to have it by noon.” One sounds more demanding—and even ruder— than the other.
- Grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Just as the way we dress and present ourselves can influence the way our message is perceived in person, the way we present ourselves on-screen can have a big impact on how our reader thinks of us and our message.
- Your mood shows on the screen. My co-worker is right. How you feel when you send a message is reflected in your word choice, your level of formality, and whether you use emojis or humor in your correspondence.
- Your existing relationship is a huge factor in how you sound to your reader. How well do you know and get along with your reader? If you like someone, you are likely to interpret their writing differently than if you don’t care for her or him. One of the big mistakes writers make (it happens in sales emails all the time) is to presume a relationship with the reader that doesn’t yet exist. Assuming an informal tone when the reader is not entirely comfortable with you yet may create a disconnect.
The problem with this, of course, is that we are often unaware of how our tone is received by readers. This means we must be vigilant about creating the tone we mean to create and not suffer unintended consequences. Read your email carefully before hitting “send” or “reply.” If you are concerned your message might be misinterpreted, have someone else read it over to see if that person “hears” something in our writing you don’t mean.
Email is a big part of everyone’s day to day life and shows no signs of getting less important. We’ve got a course that can help you write better emails that help you get more accomplished. Just as important, this course helps you keep your inbox organized and under control so that you can be productive in the other areas of your job that need you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.