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,
Communication through technology is a difficult task to tackle. I cannot tell you how many times I received a text from my girlfriend of “Fine” and freaked out. That response automatically means she’s mad at me, right? Tone is impossible to understand sometimes. Turns out she was about to run out to soccer practice and a quick response is all she could manage. Crisis averted.
Misinterpretation of words on a screen, such as a text or email, is common. Also, being new at a big firm can be intimidating, which can affect the way you communicate. You are trying to impress everyone and make a good first impression. While trying to accomplish this, it is important to not be tone-deaf and to focus on effective communication. Based on the reactions of the emails so far, communication has not been effective. Using a dull, vague, or casual tone, such as “Sure, I guess I will do that”, can mislead the readers to believe you are being condescending or uninterested. The danger of not working and communicating well with coworkers is your boss realizing you don’t fit the company’s culture. To avoid this unfortunate outcome, it is time to evaluate and change your tone.
If your emails are sending the wrong message, there are a few ways to fix the problem. The people that are reading the emails do not know you or your tone of voice. As a new grad, you are used to interacting with fellow classmates via email. Talking amongst friends and classmates is casual and unintimidating. Group project emails are full of one line sentences with no subject line and “TTYL” as the sign off. Now you are in a whole new world, free of texting abbreviations. Communicating with classmates is much different than communicating with coworkers and your boss. When addressing these people, you must learn “Email Etiquette for Business”. The article includes great advice and even a video about how to clean up your work emails. Through your tone in an email, you want to be respectful, friendly, and approachable. Coworkers work well together when communication is easy and comfortable. The content of the emails must be presented in a concise manner that will leave little room for misinterpretation. Avoid saying anything that a person may find offensive and understand other people’s point of view. If you are disagreeing with a coworker, be respectful in your manner of conveying your thoughts. The tone of your previous emails has resulted in the exact opposite, but by editing them to be polite and professional, people will come to you with open arms.
Now, it is easy to say change your tone but then there is the question of how? Through email you do not have the luxuries of verbal tone or body language to get a message across. Without any form of animation, the content must say it all. The tone of an email is formed through the word choice, sentence structure, and order of the information presented. Everything is important is an email, from start to finish, “Hello” to “Thank you”. In between, make sure to convey the most pertinent information in the beginning to lay the ground work for the email. I’ve also suggested that in the workplace it is useful to add a personal touch when communicating. By addressing people specifically, they will pay attention more so than if the email simply refers to everyone.
As far as word choice, a way to improve your workplace jargon would be to begin using common metaphors or idioms. After reading this article, I was surprised at how often I hear these and how they can add character to a subject. The author explains how everyday conversation can be more colorful and fun by using some of these phrases that relate to work. He calls them metaphors; however I think they are idioms. Any help on this? The point here is that using some of these phrases can add some voice and relay a message in a more fun and lively way. “Be professional” in your emails does not mean be boring.