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
Hi In Hot Water,
Below you will find a more general response to your particular question. This is an important issue most people in the working world will come across.
“This is a formal submission of my resignation from Company Incorporated. While I really appreciate all of the opportunities this company has offered and experience I have gained, I do not feel that my qualifications and business acumen is being used optimally. Unfortunately as well I did not find a personal niche that I felt made work doable. I have decided to transition to a different industry and wish you all well with future endeavors.”
Even the untrained eye can tell this is far from the most respectful and appropriate letter of resignation. Setting aside the length, examples used, and overall language the tone of this statement comes off as passive aggressive and unappreciative. Sure, you’re right. It directly says the writer feels appreciation, but that’s an empty word when backed up by (possibly unintended) reservations or grievances. From start to finish the reader assumes the person leaving does not feel any sort of gratitude or sentiment towards the company. This is impersonal, potentially aggressive, and full of blame. Huffington Post Canada has an interesting article on five ways to keep your tone in check for more insight.
Tone. Tone. Tone.
We’ve all read a text from a friend and completely misunderstood their intentions because the tone of their message displayed different information than was meant. It’s especially important in business writing to be able to communicate information to another party clearly, concisely, and effectively. The part people forget is how it sounds, or comes off to others. The voice of a paper is interpreted differently depending on the person, it’s important to understand the nuances of coworkers to be able to effectively distribute data with everyone having the same understanding at the end. As the Capital Community College Foundations puts it: it’s about “writing with a sense of purpose.”
Safe Mutual Understanding
Language is, at its simplest terms, encoding information and translating it through a medium (spoken, written, pictures, etc.) to be decoded by the receiver. We all know how to encode; it’s the decoding we all interpret differently. Passing along an ability to understand is of the utmost importance when it comes to communicating with coworkers. They need to be able to receive the message without feeling personally attacked. Maybe the personally, royally screwed up, but in a business context they need to understand the significance or degree of their mistakes without having a reason to contact HR about harassment. I can encode the same aggressive information in a fist as I can in a letter; the only difference is one well deepen the problem. If these abilities aren’t taken as being about protecting the “feelings” of a coworker; then they’re about self-preservation and restraint instead. Considering the opposites reaction makes working in a volatile environment easier on at least a personal level.
What’s The Point?
What was the point of reading this? Does this mean I have to walk on eggshells to make everyone like me? No. Nope. No way. If someone’s being laid off, they obviously need to be told so. They need to be able to prepare for the job market, organize a budget, etc. What they don’t need is to feel personally attacked and beaten down by the one with the unfortunate job of letting them go. We’re all human. This means giving people the full and honest truth, without demeaning them personally. As another note, most of this essay focused on avoiding negative connotations. It’s important to note that it is also important to actively phrase information in a non-confusing manner. This is where the difference between passive and active voice makes a huge difference. If passive or active voice is unclear terms Purdue’s Owl writing resource has a clear differentiation between the two.