Netflix and Chill. When Tone Means Everything……

DSC05201Dear 3040 and Beyond:

I’m a new grad at a big firm and I think I’ve messed things up with my co-workers. They’ve been acting weird around me and my only office friend says I’ve been offending people in my emails. From my boss to my peers, it looks like I’ve made everyone mad. The thing is, I have no idea what kinds of stuff I could say in email that would piss people off! I’m a nice person and I haven’t had many problems like this before. Can you help?


In Hot Water

Dear In Hot Water,

It seems to me that the problem you are having is not because you are a mean or disrespectful person, but because it is possible that the tone of your emails may be unintentionally offensive. Written communication is difficult because your reader cannot hear the tone of your voice or observe your body language as you communicate. This disconnect can cause your coworkers to be offended by your emails. Because of this disconnect, written communication is inherently sensitive and requires extra consideration. But don’t lose heart, you are not the only person that struggles with some level of tone-deafness in your emails!

The tone of an email is crucial to the effectiveness of the message you are trying to convey. Globe University reminds writers that being “tone deaf” when writing an email can potentially cause the reader to misinterpret the senders intentions. In order to avoid such miscommunications that reduce the effectiveness of a message, it is important that you are hyper aware of how the purpose of your message can be misrepresented by the perceived tone of your message. While you may think you are being concise and to the point those who receive your email may regard your conciseness as bossy and overbearing.

Writer and designer D.T. Griffith discusses words and phrases that can turn people off and suggests that when writing an email you should be highly decisive. Saying things like “hmmmmmm” and “let me think about this” are unnecessarily showing your thought process as the writer and can annoy or anger the reader. This lack of professionalism in writing can also offend the reader by making them feel like the you are talking down to them, or underestimating their intelligence. Simple things like addressing coworkers by their first names and not by their full title can offend them and create animosity towards you.

Jane Porter of FastCompany addresses the issue that surfaces when emails are perceived as passive aggressive and certain things that can cause this perception. While you (and many others!) may think adding a smiley face or an exclamation mark to an email is harmless and friendly, when your reader is sensitive about the subject matter these symbols can be taken as a act of passive aggression masking an underlying negative emotion. To combat this make sure to be mindful of the content of your message and how that content may make the reader feel before adding any extra bling to your email.

RENOVATION 3Something else to keep in mind when writing emails to coworkers is that many of the people you are emailing receive thousands of emails a day. Sending a message like “can you do this or not????” can be offensive to someone who does a million things every day and already feels overworked and under appreciated. While this was surely not your intent, the tone of your message would inevitably offend your coworkers and cause tension.

Because it’s nearly impossible to know what phrases or words will potentially offend certain people in your office, it’s always safest to use words that have little possibility of having a negative or offensive tone. Simple blunders like using one gender pronoun over another in a mass email to coworkers can be very offensive to some of the people you work with. As a result, be sure to always think about exactly who is reading your email and plan accordingly when selecting the language that will establish the tone in your email.

I hope these tips are applicable and help you to become a more successful communicator! I know this can be overwhelming, but bon’t feel discouraged! With a little effort and a new perspective I am sure you can overcome this road bump.

Best of Luck,

Sarah Chappelear


11 thoughts on “Netflix and Chill. When Tone Means Everything……

  1. Firstly, I loved your title for your blog post! It made me laugh and got me interested in what you wrote right away. I think you were very smart to address tone outright, because this many times is the single most apparent problem in miscommunication. Your link to Globe university proved very insightful in explaining why being tone deaf can really hurt you. I also liked how you addressed passive aggressiveness because this is also a common mistake people make in emails. I myself have unintentionally come across this way and suffered the consequences! Overall, i found this entry to be very clear and informative- awesome post!

  2. Great title for this blog post, immediately when I read it it made me what is sarah talking about? But after reading I thought this was the perfect way to introduce a post about tone and the levels of humor that can be found in emails, text, articles, etc. I really liked the Globe university link, as well as the Jane porter article. I think both offered insights into how to be serious in your writing, without being too serious. I think the ideas you had about making sure to always proofread an email were very helpful, I know how big of a mistake one can make with something so simple! Awesome job on the post I look forward to more!

  3. Sarah–
    I really liked the title of your post and I thought that you were able to make the subject matter very relatable to members of our generation right off the bat! I thought that the examples you gave in your piece were very common mistakes that I find myself making now and then. We grew up in the texting age, and so it’s very normal to slap on a few extra question marks or exclamation points onto everything that we say, but in the workplace, emails like this can make the reader feel like you are acting aggressively towards them. I totally agree that it’s very important to consider each email response thoroughly before writing. Eventually, sending a professional email with clear tone will be second nature. Great job with the post!

  4. Sarah,
    Love the title of you blog post! I’m really in to being catchy as well! I really loved how you talked about what is offensive to people in an email. Saying something like “can you do this or not???” is probably not the best because the person you are emailing most likely has a million other things on their plate. I also enjoyed how you mention the point of planning out what you want to say. To me, this is the most full proof way of assuring that you wont offend anyone. Great job! Really enjoyed reading what you have to say.

  5. Your title was both funny and hooked me to want to read more. Your point about being decisive was a great thing to bring up as I can find myself sometimes unnecessarily going through my thought process in my emails. Also discussing the idea of not including exclamation marks because it can actually be a sign of masking negative emotion is something I’ve never thought about before. However, when I put more thought into the matter it makes a lot of sense and will definitely be something I look out for in the future. This was an overall solid post, good work.

  6. Your title rocks! it brought my attention to the article immediately! I agree if you don’t proofread appropriately things may not be stated appropriately and the things are misread and understood. Your links really add to your article! i think they were so perfectly placed and really help support to your piece. I totally have sent off emails in the past without checking them properly and then go re read them and been like ooo i hope the person reading this doesn’t take it in the wrong way so good job! i really liked every aspect of this article.

  7. You brought some great sources to the table. You do a great job explaining and summarizing too in a way that doesn’t leave the reader wanting more/confused. You also use great visuals that are well placed and totally applicable! They really add to this post. You also chose a great title, but I don’t understand how “netflix and chill” pertains to effective business writing? I think I get what you’re trying to get across but as a reader I was a little confused how it was related back to the meat of the post. Overall great and solid sources/ideas.

  8. Your title is brilliant. How could a millennial not click on this link? I think addressing passive aggressiveness because that’s where our minds naturally go to if we are unsure of a message. I didn’t think of that, and it really builds on the Purdue article. I think you give good advice (like being hyper aware) and you also give good examples of the wrong way and the correct way to do things. I like your images because they break up the text nicely. And fast company is one of my favorite publications so that immediately gives your article credibility in my head.

  9. First of all, your title is hilarious. I saw a news site use that saying for one of their stories, and they obviously have no idea what it means. I like how you referred to this problem as tone-deafness. A lot of the time, messages that comes off as offensive were never originally intended to. You give really good advice on things that may seem miniscule to some, but actually do make a difference. I wasn’t thinking about how a smiley face can be passive aggressive, but in the right context, I could totally see how it could offend someone. You also use really good voice through out your entire piece, and sound relatable. Nice job!

  10. Hi! I loved your title. You had me laughing before I even started reading. I think beginning with humor establishes a great relationship with your audience. All too often I read business articles or really just articles in general and I find myself nodding off. It’s refreshing to see some humor in an article! The subject of tone-deafness really applies to the real world in my opinion. I think many people struggle to relate their personal conversation tone to their online or written persona. I think your tips, particularly being hyper aware, are really helpful. Being hyper aware of what you are saying is crucial to crafting emails that are read as the writer intended. I think your voice and personality really shine through in this article. I felt like I was taking advice from a friend or a co-worker; helpful but not condescending. Really enjoyed your take on this subject and i will definitely be applying this to my future writing.

  11. Hey! Awesome title. It really helps to know you can relate to the writer when they have titles that you can relate to and are funny because blog posts should be fun. As a millennial scrolling down the through the blogs there is no way I could look over this post. I really enjoyed the part when you were talking about how co workers receive thousands of emails a day and its important to be clear and respectful. One problem in todays society is that any message can seem offensive to someone in some way. So it is very important to try and minimize the confusion and be short and clear. All of the advice was very helpful and relatable. Great post.

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