Appropriate 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

Writing to your peers and especially to your boss is incredibly important. Being able to write appropriately toward your readers and use correct attitude will make your writing more affective. This attitude is your tone of voice, and yes, it does affect a reader as it would a listener. Millennial’s are often what some call “tone deaf” when writing in the workplace emails; mainly because we seem to have learned that it is okay to write informally to our employers…wrong. Being tone deaf in writing, as Samantha Gluck writes in her article in Freelance Writing Dreams, has much to do with “using the wrong tone for your piece, or a tone that doesn’t match the general profile of your readers,” and this will have your audience running for the hills. This also can make your readers confused on how/what you are trying to say to them; it seems like they must not know if you are trying to write them in a positive or negative way. There are many ways to fix how you write and express appropriate tone in order to give the readers what the want; enjoyment and benefits from your work.

The first piece of advice I can give you to effectively write in the working, is to know how to answer: Why? Who? What? The why being your purpose; why you’re writing to whomever it may concern. The who; who you are writing to/for. And finally, the what: what kind of tone should you be expressing.

In this article, they talk about millennials watching their tone depending on if your message is a positive or a negative one. This “what” area is going to be where you are going to hit or miss; missing… is not what you want to do. For instance, let’s say you are writing a positive message, such as a letter of acceptance for taking a job position, you are going to want to be confident and genuine, don’t be arrogant or cocky. Phrases that are demeaning or stereotypical, sexist, and discriminatory should be left out. Consider taking in the benefits of the reader and stress how grateful you are to have been offered the position. You want to be straight to the point with your purpose of the letter, so don’t write in complex forms, unless appropriate. With a negative message, you are going to want to be a sincere and concise. Therefore, do not attack your reader or address what you do not necessarily like. Many times the people you are writing to will already understand their faults, but it is not your job to make them relevant to the individual. Thank the reader and be gracious for whatever they may have offered your, asked you, or done for you, even if you are rejecting or denying them.

Secondly, take on the opposite perspective. This article talks about how this may help you write better to someone else, if you put yourself in the shoes of being written to. If you are able to put yourself into the reader’s eyes, think about how you would like to be spoken to if you were receiving your work. You will want to maximize the benefits your readers will get after reading, maybe not in a negative message, but definitely in a positive one. Being thankful, sincere, gracious, confident, will all benefit the reader by keeping them interested and furthermore improve the effectiveness of your piece.

As a millennial myself, I definitely can see where you are coming from. Just know there are ways to not come off as if you are offending your peers and your boss. Be confident in yourself; be thankful for whomever you are writing to, and switch places with them before you start writing. Knowing how you would react to a message will ultimately let you into how they might react. Be careful with your wording, read through, revise, and good luck!



One thought on “Appropriate Tone

  1. Hi Tateh,

    Thank you for the thoughtful post on email tone. I think you brought up a great point on knowing how to effectively initiating the email by stating who, what, and why. I think why is one of the most important parts to an email because it makes worth while to the individual who you are writing to. Sometimes email tone can come off annoying or unprofessional and I think by nailing “why” you can eliminate that.

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