From Tone Deaf to Politely Portrayed


Dear 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,

I myself have too struggled with communication with others due to a problem in tone. My mother and I get along very well, one might even say we are best friends. We talk on the phone each day and rarely encounter problems leading to issues or fights in our relationship. However, when I communicate via text with my mother, I become very anxious as she writes strictly composed texts with periods and very little emotion. I, on the other hand, write texts full of emphasis as I hope to communicate my excitement through my writing. Over time, my mother and I have been able to understand each other’s texting styles and the differences between the two, but initially I always thought she was angry at me or in a poor mood when I received her texts. We have now both learned that we can communicate with each other in our own way without feeling offended, and she has even attempted to include more excitement and enthusiasm in her communication. So have no fear, there are certain things you can do to improve your tone in your emails and in turn change the way your co-workers treat you.

Diplomacy, Tone, and Emphasis in Business Writing has outlined how create an effective tone in your writing to co-workers that will make them feel valued and of importance. Two of these points especially stuck out to me.

  1. Remind Your Reader What is in it for Them, Especially When Asking for Help 

It is incredibly important for your reader to realize that by performing a certain task, they will be rewarded or that they will have greatly helped the company. Let them know that in their area of work, they have the control to make the work as they would like to see it and in a way that will benefit everyone.

2. Ask (when you can afford to hear no) and Thank Your Reader 

Readers will react in a more positive manner when they feel they have a choice on whether to do something or not. If they are asked to attend a meeting instead of feeling forced to attend, their morale will most likely be higher.

Setting the Email Tone expertly explains how to create a pleasant tone within the first sentence of an email. The greeting should be happy and friendly, something along the lines of, “Good morning, Leadership Team, I hope you are having a great week so far.” The initial upbeat and positive tone lets co-workers receiving the email feel that they have been doing a good job and are not in any trouble. By personalizing who the email is being sent to (i.e Leadership Team), workers feel that they are being directly addressed.

In addition to all of the above advice, there are different tones to be set for different types of emails. Appropriate Tone in Business Writing gives great examples for how tone should be different in regards to the content of each email. If you are writing to an employee or coworker telling them that you have to deny their request, the email should be regretful and courteous, not rude and stern. However, if you are writing an email to an employee or co-worker awarding them a promotion or giving them a bonus, the tone should be appreciative and enthusiastic. You should let them know how thankful you are to have them working for or with you.

I hope this information is of some help to you, In Hot Water. I know writing emails can be difficult and may seem daunting at times, but I know you can do this!




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Hi there! My name is Ella Stapp and I am currently a Junior at the University of Colorado. I am in the Leeds Business School and am majoring in Operations Management. I am hoping to obtain a career in restaurant ownership and management. I have started this blog for an online class I am taking, but am looking forward to add professional as well as personal experiences on here. Happy reading!

4 thoughts on “From Tone Deaf to Politely Portrayed

  1. Ella, the opening response to the letter was very relatable! I have had very similar problems with communicating with my parents. The way that you turned your story into a success gave hope to me with regards to communicating to those through writing rather than face-to-face communication. When you introduced your points to work on I was able to comprehend your ideas easily and you made it sound so simple! It was interesting that you added on starting the communication with co-workers on a high note. I think that will add to the overall feeling the reader experiences when reading the memo. Overall, your post kept me interested and I truly learned how to communicate more effectively through media. Good work!

  2. I think we have all suffered from the awkwardness of a tone-deaf email- and it stinks! I like how you addressed the commonality right off the bat. Your link: diplomacy, tone, and emphasis in business writing was really effective and the two points you chose to address were awesome to enhance your thoughts on. I think its especially important to remind the reader what’s in it for them because it keeps them invested in what they are reading and continue to actively participate. I also agree that thanking the reader for their time is a really nice touch, because after all, no one really likes reading those things! Overall awesome job!

  3. Hey Ella!

    Holy cow, I am so right there when you talk about your relationship with your mother! My mom and I are also extremely close, however when we text I feel like she is my worse enemy. Periods, no smiley faces, it seems like she is talking monotone, one extremely unhappy individual or unbelievably angry with me! How funny that we can relate on that. Beyond just your mention of the similar relationship we share with our mothers, I could not agree more on the tips you offered In Hot Water. Mentioning what is in it for the reader, thanking them, and going over appropriate tone in business writing are all essentials to writing a polite email.

    Tessa Snow

    P.S. I think your title for this blog was spot on!

  4. Hi Ella!
    I loved how you incorporated a personal anecdote from your experience with you mother. I too have struggled with not only texting my mom but my friends, my extended family, and even my boss. I think this has become a trend in our society. We are hyper aware of our comments and tone in person but not in our writing. This, as you mentioned, can prove to be problematic not only in the workplace, but also in our personal lives. Our tone influences how people see us and how they react to what we are telling them. I really enjoyed your section “Ask (when you can afford to hear a no) and thank your reader” I think being cordial and polite is often a lost are in email writing. However, I know from experience people are much more willing to help you, and do what you want, when you ask and consider their feelings. Overall, great article and I really enjoyed the content!

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