Hey, Watch Your Tone!

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:

How many times have you heard one of your friends agonize over the meaning of the latest text they received from their crush? Does it mean they like me, or are they just being nice? What does ‘ok’ mean?

Photo courtesy of Will Lion
Photo courtesy of Will Lion

 Although it seems silly and amusing to watch your friend do this, it reveals that the meaning of electronic messages can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Today, as electronic mediums grow in popularity and prevalence in the business world, it is becoming increasingly important to monitor what the tone of our messages are saying beyond the meaning of the plain text. One ‘tone deaf’ email to a recruiter or boss can eliminate you from contention for hiring or that next promotion. Though monitoring your tone may seem even more confusing than deciphering the meaning of the last text your crush sent, by using a few simple tricks you can ensure that your emails are never misinterpreted again.  

Greetings and Closings

The first and easiest step in making sure your emails send the right message is to pay attention to your greetings and closings. By nature, these will be some of the first and last things that your reader will see. Accordingly, it is imperative to set the tone for the rest of the email and leave them feeling good about it when they are done. If your reader feels negatively about the greeting or closing, this can cause them to feel adversely about the rest of the email as well.

The correct greeting and closing will look different depending on what situation you are in and who the recipient is. For business emails, it is generally good practice to initially use formal salutations. This is especially true for anyone who is your superior. Once the line of communication has been opened, you may then choose to mirror what the other person is doing. This will ensure you are not under or overly formal in whatever situation arises.

Assume Your Reader is Grumpy

Once you move into the body of the email, you must then start to think about what kind of tone your language is portraying. A good way to check if you are using the right tone is to imagine reading your email as someone who is grumpy or stressed out. A simple sentence like “Hey, I need your report done by the 3pm deadline today.” could make someone who is already angry feel as if you are micromanaging them and do not feel confident in their abilities to complete the task. Alternatively, you could say “The 3pm deadline for your report is particularly important to keep us on schedule. I really appreciate your help and look forward to seeing your findings”. This change in phrasing conveys your message while also making the recipient feel important rather than belittled.


As with salutations, you must also consider your audience when you are writing the body of your email. In a business context, this means that you do not send emails to your boss that look the same as the text messages you send to your friends. Although this may seem simple and straightforward, it is easy to forget about when you are busy and have many other things on your mind. One basic example of this is ‘yeah’ vs ‘Yes’. By using the former, your tone could suggest to a coworker that they are not worth your full attention and time or that you are just lazy. However, by taking the two seconds to change your response to ‘Yes’, you immediately seem more professional and engaged. Screening your messages for things like this is critical because it could make the difference between getting what you need or getting ignored.

I hope these tips help can help you ease the tension at work and create great relationships with your coworkers.

Best Regards,

Nate Roadman


6 thoughts on “Hey, Watch Your Tone!

  1. I liked how you started off with an example that applies to all of our lives today. I have definitely been in the position where I questioned for hours what someone else’s text meant. Your example helped prove how important tone is today. Your advice of assuming your reader is grumpy was a new, fresh perspective. The example was very effective and showed how re wording your original email can lead to a much more positive interaction with a coworker. You maintained a relatable and friendly tone throughout your post, which made your audience feel much more comfortable. Great post!

  2. I really liked how you started this post off. You gave the audience an example that almost everyone can relate to which really helped me comprehend the point you were making. The section about “assuming everyone is grumpy” was something I’ve never really thought about so definitely gave me a concept to consider for all future emails. In your final paragraph about audience you brought up the idea of “yeah versus yes”. Although this may seem like a minor detail, it really is an important thing to remember so it was great idea for you to bring this up. Another solid post!

  3. I love how you begin this post with the little crush / text analogy-we’ve all been there and you establish a connection with your reader from the get go. You make really solid points in each of your sections and you keep your writing, clear and succinct so you keep your reader engaged the entire length of the post. You use credible sources that really add you your writing. I like how you implemented the headings with large font, it guides your thinking and aids the flow of the post. It also kept me interested. I think you can benefit from another visual aid but overall great work and solid ideas!

  4. I love your personal anecdote at the beginning. Perfect way to grab the reader, because we are all guilty of this or at least have some idea of what you are talking about. Your image is both aesthetically pleasing and provides relevant and important information. I think you have a really strong introduction paragraph on multiple levels: your voice shows though, it is well-organized, good sentence structure etc. Nice use of headlines to break up your paragraphs, ideas and arguments. You give good suggestions to “in hot water” and your audience. I like that you structured it like a true letter when you sign off.

  5. Hi! As many people have stated previously, I love the beginning of you post. I think anecdotes like that really engage the reader and add some real world application to your writing. I like how you formatted the post and broke up the steps into categories. Not only does this help the reader be able to reference your article while writing but it also breaks up the material. Instead of simply reading a wall of text the reader can easily identify the steps and main points. Assuming your reader is grumpy is an excellent strategy. It encourages the audience to be sensitive to people and their feelings. I think it’s much safer to assume that someone is already on edge then test their patience with a poorly worded email. Overall, loved the article and can’t wait to read more from you!
    – Jessica

  6. From the beginning of this post I was drawn in and could really relate to what you were saying. I personally interpret messages in a different way then others and so does everyone else. That is why your points throughout this post are veery helpful. The part about closing and greetings was great because its true that the ending will be the thing the reader remembers and the greeting is what draws attention. If you don’t grab the readers attention then likely hood of them remembering what the message was is slim. I also liked the part about assuming your reader is grumpy because you never know what mood the receiver of the message will be in. Great work.

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