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
Tone 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.