Houston, We Have a Problem

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

6507562-close-up-portrait-of-distressed-businessman-with-hands-on-his-face-white-background-stock-photoTone is one of the most important aspects of professional writing. Knowing how to control your tone, and learning when and where to use certain tones can take you very far. On the contrary, it is very easy to get trapped in the mindset that whatever you would say in everyday life is acceptable. Everyday conversational tone is acceptable between you and your friends, but when you are communicating to your boss it might not be the smartest of ideas. From your message, it appears that you have accidentally offended your coworkers. It is a very real possibility that you can offend people through email and it should be taken seriously. Clearly, you accidentally said something offensive that you didn’t even think was offensive, or you wrote in a less-than pleasing tone. Many times people write and think that they are writing a perfectly fine email, but when read
by the recipient, it comes off as sounding condescending or overly confident. It is very important to identify how you sound in your normal writing because tone is everywhere in writing and it pervades into everything that you write.

It is no easy task to learn how to control your tone. Sometimes you can get the tone completely wrong when you thought you got it right. I have, numerous times, underestimated how professional I should be in my emails. Luckily, I learned early on in high school when it was acceptable to make mistakes like that. Currently I am sending out emails, resumes, and cover letters left and right to potential employers, and I think learning this lesson early on has had a profound effect on my ability to communicate.

I think that one of the biggest problems I had was telling people to respond to me. I always thought that ending an email with “I look forward to hearing from you” was far too cocky and somewhat arrogant. After talking with a few people in the business world, they actually told me that it is like having confidence not just in yourself, but your writing. That small sentence really stuck with me and it led me to really consider that, when I am writing, I need to consider what someone else is going to think I am implying. It seems very backwards, but it is very true. Now when I write, it is a habit for me to reread emails and try to think of everything that I said and how it could affect the reader’s opinion of me. 

As with previous posts, knowing your audience is paramount. Sending an email to your boss is a  whole different beast than emailing a friend or your mother. In order to accomplish the task at hand, you need to evaluate the relationship that you have with that person and how you expect them to talk to you. Next you must evaluate the type of message that you are trying to convey and which manner is the most effective way to do that. In my opinion, it is always better to be as professional as possible when first contacting someone. Once you open the dialogue, you can then infer from their response what the tone they are using and that tone should be where you stay.

Overall, it is rather self-explanatory. When you are sending emails to your boss, manager, partner, or coworker you should take a more professional and streamlined approach so that you do not come off as snobbish or condescending. 


7 thoughts on “Houston, We Have a Problem

  1. It is good you learned early on how to properly use tone in emails! Tone can make or break communication and knowing how to use and portray your tone to readers is essential. I too have had or witnessed times where tone was taken incorrectly and it never ends good. Although tone can be difficult to master it is very important one considers their tone and works to the best of their ability to learn to use it effectively. I like how you mentioned you reread your emails, but in addition to this I would add that if possible it is always good to have someone else read the email. Overall great post!

  2. Hi Ryan,

    Thank you for the thoughtful post on tone in emails. I think you brought up a good point by knowing your audience. I think sometimes we get too comfortable over tech means that we maybe come off a little inappropriate. At my work I send a lot of emails throughout the day and I have come to know who I am sending emails too and what I can say and how I can say to make it sound appropriate to the reader. I always started off by emailing in a super professional manner just to make sure I was maintaining that tone

  3. Clever title, Ryan! I strongly agree with the point you brought up about getting people to respond back to you. It really is tricky to try and think of something good to say. I like how you gave real world advice from business professionals. You ended your blog post with a great, yet simple, piece of advice. You must always remember to conduct yourself in a professional manner while in a work setting.

  4. I definitely agree that I have had some trouble writing my emails to employers sometimes. I like how you brought up that confidence is key! Major thing to keep in mind. I think that having confidence will allow your potential employer to know that you are serious about wanting this job. Confidence is sexy! And it is effective! I think I’m definitely going to have to keep telling myself because I have the same problem thinking that I might sound too cocky or arrogant! Taking this class is helping me realize confidence in writing is a good thing, can’t wait to see what else we can learn about writing in the weeks to come.

  5. Ryan,

    I really like how you talked about how people communicate and use the tone in emails as if it was a face to face interaction. To me, that is a huge reason why someones tone may go off as disrespectful or not proper to a co-worker or potential employer. Professional writing involves care consideration in how you write an email and the “voice” you are using. Again, knowing you audience can help manage the tone you use as well as what information should be put in and left out of an email. It’s awesome to hear that you have learned from your mistakes, especially now when you are applying for internships.

    Jake Gonzales

  6. Hey Steve,

    I think I hear you yell your title most Saturday mornings, pretty clever. I really like the point on ending emails with “I look forward to hearing from you.” I also end just about any email that I think warrants a response with it. I think its the perfect amount of confidence, and I think a lot of people feel obligated to email back when they see it. I also believe it is always better to be too professional if anything, and the you can gauge the tone in the rest of the conversation.

  7. Hi Ryan,

    I liked the tone of your post as you immediately made yourself vulnerable and relatable to the reader. Pulling from real world experiences you’ve had made for a great addition to the post and added value for someone who might be going through the job application process. Also, “I look forward to hearing from you” is an excellent line for emails and is one I use rather frequently as well. Not only does it read as confident, but it helps to manage expectations on both ends. Overall great post.


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