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:
After reading your cry for help, I want to reassure you that you are not the only young professional who tends to be a little off beat when it comes to delivering a specific tone while writing. This misrepresentation of that intended tone in writing is by no means a one-man show that you are the star of, as I promise that countless millennials struggle with this task both in and outside of the workplace every.single.day. However, just as you have earned your first job at a big firm as a recent college graduate, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that you are not more than capable of earning the respect of your colleagues through using proper tone in your emails.
To begin mastering tone I want you actually rewind to when you are driving to work and flipping through the radio stations. Scanning from one station to another, there are the options of listening to channels that play oldies, top hits, country music, rap and hip-hop and everything in between. If you are anything like me, there are some stations that I will automatically skip. Even though there could be a song with lyrics that I could relate to, because it is sang through a certain genre of music I do not even give the music the time of day. However, when I scan across on of my go to stations, I find myself listening to songs strictly because they either have a nice beat or are sang through a certain genre. The most interesting part of this is the idea that two songs from totally different genres could have the same general meaning, but because one of the songs is part of a certain genre, that has a certain tone, I would potentially not listen to do.
This idea that the beat, genre and tone of a song determines whether someone will listen to the lyrics goes to show that you truly can say whatever you want to say, you just have to find the correct way to say it!
And drumroll! To do this, do not be tone deaf in your writing.
In every possible type of writing, whether that is a business memo, email, proposal etc., tone-deaf writing occurs you the following three components are not carefully considered:
- Why am I writing this document?
- Who am I writing to and what do I want them to understand?
- What kind of tone should I use?
To catch on to the beat of this,
Why am I writing this document? When asking yourself this, you are thinking about the reasoning behind the message of the writing.
An example of this is my response to your call for help. I am writing this to help you master tone in business writing so that you can better articulate yourself to colleagues and gain respect. So my purpose is to help you master tone/gain respect, therefore vocabulary to describe my tone would be words such as, “hopeful” that you are capable of mastering the skill and “informative.”
Who am I writing to and what do I want them to understand? To answer this question, you should be thinking about exactly whom you are writing to. Just like the variety of radio stations each have a somewhat intended audience and deliver a tone to cater towards those people, your writing should do the same!
An example of this is: if when responding to your call to help I wrote in Shakespearian language, I would obviously not be using an effective tone or language. In addition to that, if I worded my tips in an indirect fashion, then it would seem as if I really did not know what I was talking about, creating a tone of confusion.
What kind of tone should I use? The ultimate question! Use the tone that makes you feel as if you are portraying your intended message in the most authentic and appropriate way possible.
An example of this is: considering the language you have decided to use to convey that tone, putting emphasis on elements of the text that do not lead the reader astray, leaving out discriminatory language, and taking into consideration the perspective of the reader.
In Hot Water, do not let those first few emails define you as a person. Consider the tone of your writing and you will not only gain respect from others, but you could also be asked for an encore.
3040 and Beyond, Tessa Snow