Never Be Misunderstood Again!

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 Waterupload_1399179708_voice

Dear Hot Water,

As you may well know, communication is a large factor in the workplace today.  Older generations tend to disapprove of a lot of the ways that us millennials convey information.  Albert Mehrabian came up with describing communication in three parts:

  1. The actual words you use (7%),
  2. The tone of delivery (38%), and
  3. The body language accompanying your words (55%).

Clearly, the actual words used are not really that important when compared to tonality. This ties to the old cliché “Its not what you say, it’s how you say it.”  While the words you are saying may not be a problem, you must look past that and discover how the audience is perceiving them in a negative way.  There are three questions you should consider before writing a document.

Why am I writing this document?

First of all, you must  know what exactly you are trying to say and how you want to express it.  The audience will be able to understand you better if you are completely clear and specific about the message you are conveying.  The tone of the document can go all over the place if you aren’t even certain of your own emotions on the subject, regardless of the audience.

Who am I writing to and what do I want them to understand?

This is the logical next step after establishing your own reasoning for the message you are sending.  It is vital to consider the reader when writing in the business world, no matter what status that reader has.  Tailoring to the specific audience can really help make the message more effective, as they can then more directly connect with what you are saying, instead of getting lost.  Roane State lists the following as good questions to ask yourself when considering the audience:

  • Is your audience familiar with the text/topic?
  • Are they educated?
  • What is their background?  (Where are they from?  What is their political affiliation?  What do they do for a living?)
  • How old are they?
  • Do they agree or disagree with your stance on the issue?

What kind of tone should use?

This is the hardest part of the process.  There are so many different types of tone you can use, it is essential to discern which is most appropriate for the situation.   Write Express describes a few tips to help with your tone in business.

  1. The tone should always be fairly formal.  While certain situations call for more casual speech, formality is definitely the approach to take when.  However, there is no need to be overly formal.  There is no reason to use “in the event of,” when “if” will get the same message across.
  2. Always be positive even when the message is negative.  This shows compassion for your audience and they will accept the message easier.  Along the same line, always be courteous and show confidence in your message.  The audience will more likely agree with you.  Although, a proper balance between tentativeness and overconfidence must be reached to avoid being taken as a joke or being resented.
  3. Using appropriate language is also very important.  It is extremely important to not use any sort of discriminatory language that may offend anyone .  Also, avoid the use of flowery language that may complicate a simple and easy-to-understand message.

Hopefully this post enlightens you on how to communicate better with your co-workers.  Make sure to pay extra attention to how what you are writing sounds to somebody else.  While the message may seem normal and harmless to you, being on the receiving end may produce unexpected emotions.  Focus on the tone of your messages, and everything should work out in the future!



One thought on “Never Be Misunderstood Again!

  1. Hello! I liked the picture that you chose to put in this post. Not only was it funny, but it also illustrated how the tone in which people type in can make others feel. I found the beginning of your post where you discuss Albert Mehrabian very interesting. It is a really cool way to break things down, and not only shows readers how much truly goes into communication, but how big of a part tone plays as well. The questions that you say to ask yourself while writing were also very interesting. Asking yourself those questions before writing something can definitely alter the way in which someone approaches writing in the workplace, and will hopefully improve their writing overall. Great post!

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