All About That 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”


Hi In Hot Water,

Imagine the following scenario: You are a hiring manager for a major corporation and are looking through application materials to hire a summer intern. The position that you are looking to fill is extremely prestigious, and there are hundreds of worthy applicants vying for the job. After comparing logistic data (resume experience, references, etc…) you have narrowed your search down to just two applicants. Both applicants have the appropriate skill set and are virtually the same. However, after interviewing each separately, you see that one sends you a well-thought out, professional email, and the other sends you quick, informal message laden with spelling errors. Who do you choose?

Easy decision, right? Of course you would want someone professional for the job. It may seem obvious, but many of our peers have forgotten the importance of emailing. In an article , “Why Employers Say Millennials Can’t Get a Job”, relations manager Jeff Dunn highlights the one thing that people our age forget when applying for the workplace: writing skills. According to Dunn,

“Writing skills—people don’t write as much as they used to. They’re texting, so they forget to write in complete sentences and articulate their written skills professionally.”

Though this is a broad statement, it does shed light. Consider social media posts. I did this. Here is a picture of me. I went here. We don’t consider our audience because frankly, we don’t have to. Not considering how we sound in a professional environment (sending an email at work for example) can lead to us being “tone deaf” in the work place. Another way to say that would be we don’t think about how are messages are being received.

Now, you seem like you care about your job, which makes it all the more frustrating when people are upset with you.  Below, I have highlighted some classic errors that we have all made (myself included) when drafting a professional email:

Mistake #1: Not Considering Your Audience

I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. Every email is a reflection of who you are. As stated in my previous blogs, every single thing that you post/send/etc… is a reflection of your personal brand. By considering who is reading your email, you are more likely to sound professional and catch anything that may be construed as offensive or vulgar (even if you didn’t mean for it to be). For example, saying “chairman” instead of “chairperson” may come off as sexist to female employees even though you did not intend it to be.

Here’s a little trick that I use to help: think of your dream job. Now, imagine that the hiring manager or CEO for your dream job is reading your every email before you send it out. Is he/she impressed? If not, then you may need to consider some revisions.

Mistake #2 Grammatical Errors

Nothing is worse than spelling errors. In her article for Forbes, Alison Griswold admonishes that more and more millennials lack basic grammatical skills in the workplace.  That makes those of us who do check over our work for errors all the more valuable. “If you want to impress others, you will always try to use language correctly.” The image below indicates common grammatical errors that we all make and how to fix them:

 grammarMistake #3: Be Brief!

Managers are not english professors, nor do they want to read an essay every time you send them something. Be brief! Determine what you are trying to say before you write out your email and then get to the point. If you cannot determine the point of an email in the first two or three sentences, then you probably have too much. Unclear emails are the best way to ensure that your messages never get received.

For more advice on how to write a satisfactory email in the workplace, I highly recommend About Education’s article here. The last piece of advice that I have for you is not to panic. Everyone makes mistakes, and it is not too late to salvage your relationship with your coworkers. By being aware of the common mistakes above, you can ensure that you never do them again. Good luck and thanks again for the email!



4 thoughts on “All About That Tone

  1. I liked how you started off answering “In Hot Water” with a real world example. It showed how important tone truly is in the workplace. Your outlining of three common mistakes that millennials make when drafting emails made the structure of your post very easy to understand and follow. Your section about grammatical errors was spot on. The quote you pulled from Alison Griswold helped to cement your argument. I agree that proper grammar can make a world of difference in how employers will perceive you. The image that accompanied your section was very useful and helped visually represent common grammar mistakes. I have seen so many mix ups with your and you’re in emails of my peers.

  2. The organization of this post made the information easy to follow and understand what exactly is important when writing an email. Your advice was spot on and the citing of common mistakes made me realize that I make some of these as well. I think you did a great job showing just how one’s tone should be portrayed in an email in a kind way. I also really enjoyed your scenario as I believe it is something that many millennials will be able to relate to. It can definitely be challenging to know when your tone is fine and when it is not at times. Keep up the great work!

  3. First off, the start to your post was awesome. That was the first post that I have seen in this class where someone tossed in a real world example to help put things into perspective. It was a great technique and I honestly might try to use it in the future! That example was very effective and made me want to continue reading your work. The other part of your post that I really liked was the section in which you discussed considering your audience. It is very true that everything you post, send, etc. contributes to your personal brand, and that is why it is so important to consider who you are writing and make sure that it will not negatively affect your personal brand in any way.

  4. I like how you started off by addressing not only the problem, but also laying out where the problem stems from for many millennials. By demonstrating your understanding of the issue for “In Hot Water”, I feel that you effectively built credibility and made the rest of your advice in the post more trustworthy. As for the rest of the post, I thought your organization was very good and helped focus the reader. You utilized white space very well and didn’t overwhelm the reader with huge paragraphs. The headings you used also enhanced your post and helped the reader know what the main takeaways were. Lastly, I thought your advice was useful and I intend to use it in my emails going forward. Keep up the good work!

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