Wicked Words In Written Works

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 64a6d2b462554bb9574fc1e63423081binformation 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.


8 thoughts on “ Wicked Words In Written Works

  1. I really like how you stressed tone in this blog. I personally have seen how the wrong tone in an email, even if unintentional, can lead to very undesirable results. One of my friends emailed a superior about a meeting that was overdue regarding a raise. This was a standard procedure for the company, and he just wanted to know when his meeting was going to take place because it was overdue. She however took his email VERY poorly due to how she interpreted his tone. Although I never asked him if he got his raise, I’m sure the email did him no benefit. Overall this was a great post!

  2. The picture you attached is pretty funny, good choice. But now onto your actual work. It was a really good idea using that paragraph under the “letter”. This gave a good example of common, but often unnoticed, errors. Your comparison of tone in texts to the business world was also quite enjoyable. I strongly agree with all of your points.


  3. I like how you brought up encoding and decoding. I am talking about that in some of my other classes. In advertising we are going to have a message that we and people to understand and we use different forms of media platforms to encode to message but then it is left to the consumers to decode it the way we want to. If they are unable to understand what the message is supposed to be saying, ultimately the advertisement is a failure. I think this is also true with emailing as well as you mentioned. We need to have a clear intent of what we are going to write, but then we need to be able to write in in a certain way that the reader is going to be able to decode it the same way as the next.

  4. Tone is such a key factor when it comes to business emails and can not be stressed enough. I keep on stating it, but an incorrect tone in a business email can make or break the email. Using the correct and proper tone in a business email can help start to build great relationships with people who could help you get promotions or big projects in the future. When you talk about have a mutual understanding, what I think that means is simply using user-centered design in an email. Using that can make the email easy to find information as well as make work more productive and efficient.

    Jake Gonzales

  5. This is a great post. I like the structure of your post especially these subtitles, it is clear and easy to understand. I totally agree with you that “The part people forget is how it sounds, or comes off to others…” Because sometimes when people are writing something they will focus on the information they want to provide to readers. They will forget reader’s feeling. I think the best way to solve that is to read the email before you are sending to others. When you starting to read your emails you will find your tone problem and some others mistakes.

  6. Hey Braden,
    I really like how you included the letter of resignation at the beginning. While the writer is trying to be appreciative, it is clear there is a slightly aggressive undertone. You make some good points about simply considering the readers reaction, and how much one email can really affect someone. I also really like the last paragraph, and agree that no one ever needs to feel personally attacked, whether it is a bad situation or not.

  7. Braden,
    First off, I like your title a lot. It’s like a tongue twister. I think you made some very good points and the letter of resignation was a great example. It shows how just a few wrong words can make you come off as a jerk who doesn’t appreciate what has been done for them. Good post.

  8. Hello,

    I liked how you included the letter into your blog post as it put the effects of simple mistakes into perspective. I enjoyed your emphasis on tone and how we use various mediums to encode and decode messages. I believe that textual organization, punctuation, and font choice can also play a role in town and can help your reader “decode” your message.

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