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Getting the tone right in your emails – part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, we looked at how the way your email sounds (the tone), can lead to unexpected and undesirable consequences. So how do you make sure the tone in your emails is right? Here are 8 practical tips that our trainers share with our clients:

Be careful with humour

Tone is everything when it comes to humour. In particular irony and sarcasm just don’t work in emails. Emoticons can be useful for clarifying your intent – but it’s best to only use them when you are being informal with people you know well.

writing emails that people read

Choose how formal you want to be

Because we send and receive so many email we tend to think that emails can be less formal than traditional letters. Keep in mind though, that the way you write can be seen by strangers and colleagues alike as a reflection of your own professionalism, intelligence, values, and attention to detail. A good guideline, shared by a manager in Luxembourg is “not as formal as a letter on paper, but still not as friendly as I would be with my colleagues or peers when I’m talking with them”

Be polite

Being polite sounds easy, right? It’s important however to keep in mind that what is seen as “polite” is highly dependent upon your cultural background. What may sound polite to one culture may be considered less so by another ( i.e. German engineers sending mails to colleagues India). Likewise a “polite” email, can be misread as being too distant, indirect ,insincere or non-committal (i.e. English managers writing to Dutch counterpart). So what can you do? Looking to find a more respectfully neutral professional tone is a good start, and if you have received mils from them, take a minute and study their approach. If you aren’t sure, my advice is that it’s better to be too polite than not enough (but then again I’m British so this is culturally biased J)

Don’t type in all caps

EVER! It’s the same as SHOUTING at someone.

Don’t overuse punctuation!!!!!!

And be cautious about using bold, underlining and color.

Be careful when using cc’s and bcc’s

People can interpret them in different ways and read meaning into who was and was not copied, and why. Proactively deal with this by simple techniques such as  @ Miguel –fyi, no need to do anything.

Think about how it all fits together

Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, letter case, sentence length, opening, closing and capitalization. Take a look at the mail below….

Scott –

I need the dates confirmed by 5 p.m. today.

Thank you in advance!

Martin

Does Martin feel tired, annoyed, or just fine? The truth is, we just don’t know. Much of our interpretation depends upon our previous emails with Martin, our current relationship with Martin – and how do we feel at the moment – are we tired or frustrated?

 

Now look at the same email, written differently

Hi Scott,

Could you get me the dates by 5 today? I’d like to send them on to the client before I leave.

Thanks

Martin

Most people would agree that, in comparison to the first example, Martin is feeling friendly enough here. The differences are small – but important. There’s no single difference between the two mails – it’s a combination of opening, punctuation, phrasing , content and closing.

 

Ask somebody you trust to read your email first

If you are not sure about the tone of an email you are sending, have someone else read it and give you feedback before you send it.  If no one else is available, save the email in your draft folder and come back and re-read it later.

More on emailing

You can find lots more emailing tips on our blog. There’s also our latest Ebook for you to download.

1 reply
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    This is a really good post as it’s good to be reminded of some of the basics – it’s easy to write an email when you’re angry or have no time and just send it out without considering the tone. Using a number of exclamation marks drives me crazy, it’s just not necessary. Which errors do others make? Any tips from different cultures around the world?

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