Here’s the thing about electronic communication in the business world nowadays. You rarely have to face the person on the other end so it becomes easy to hide behind a wall of transactions like “reply and delete,” “follow-up, clean up, and forward.” In the section on ‘tone’ in my handbook, I wrote, “Do not think of email as some protective covering.” Actually, it should go something like this, do not think of business writing as protective covering. It’s anything but…..your writing and the tone you create in your messages can make you an open book, that is, open to other people’s interpretation. Try not to let this happen.
You will send many messages in the workplace. Typically, most of them will be in the form of email and instant messaging. But depending on your job, you may also be tasked with more formal writing such as letters, memos, and progress reports to name a few.
Just as the singing contestants in the NBC series, The Voice, work to create the most beautiful tone and win the contest, you must also work to create the most appropriate tone in your business writing. How? By understanding the origin of tone, and understanding what it takes to ensure your tone is always appropriate. Because the concept of tone is challenging and requires explanation and exercises, let’s confine our discussion to two basic questions and some solid advice.
In my handbook, I explain it in this simple way, “Tone is Attitude. And attitude is a state of mind that can be passed on in our words.”
Your tone is appropriate when you take the ‘mood out of the message’.
Solid Advice Understand Emotional Mine Fields To keep the mood out of the message, know how to navigate the emotional mine fields. It’s good to have a happy and upbeat attitude. But what about the times when you are not particularly happy and upbeat? These are the times when you must work to keep your mood out of your message. Think about sleepless nights, car troubles, family matters, and workload deadlines. These can drive the tone of your message and can wreak havoc in business communication. On the flip side, think about successes? Don’t let them go to your head. Remember, you are a member of the team and must treat your colleagues with respect. It can be easy to slip into the, “I’m the king of the world” attitude (Titanic, Twentieth Century Fox, 1997).
Avoid Booby Traps in the Mine Fields As you make your way through the mine fields, don’t be caught off guard and let your emotions lead you into the trap of…….
Being Contentious – Don’t use combative, bombastic language that suggests you are the conqueror and your colleagues are the conquered. Remember, cultivating teamwork means success for all.
Being Bossy – Don’t use pretentious and domineering language as if you have been given the ‘alpha’ role. Remember, this decision likely rests with others.
Why is it Important to Keep the Mood Out of The Message? Know that your mood can be caused by a single emotional response or a conglomerate of them. Emotional responses include such things as anger, sadness, indifference, arrogance, and sarcasm. If you need to take some time, take the time and write when you are feeling calm, clear, and objective.
Know that your readers may misunderstand and think your emotional response is their fault, or that you are directing your anger at them when in fact you are angry with yourself.
Know that electronic messages are practically eternal in cyberspace. They may never be fully deleted either on the server or in the minds of your colleagues.
Know that words have consequences. What you think is acceptable or funny may be offensive to others. Do not use slang or overly familiar language. Do not use text-speak. Do not use expletives of any kind. Use Standard English and practice good grammar and spelling. Stay away from humor.
GOLDEN RULE – THE MESSAGE CREATES THE IMAGE Some of your colleagues will never have the privilege of meeting you face to face and building a traditional working relationship. They will have to rely on your messaging. So, make your messaging worthy of ‘who you truly are’ and ‘how you wish to be known’.
For a more expanded discussion on tone in business writing, see my book, Royce Murcherson, Ph.D., The Guide to Persuasive Business Writing: A New Model that Gets Results. (Iowa: Kendall-Hall, 2013) 1-11.
Clip Art, provided by Microsoft Office Professional Academic, 2010
This article is the second in a four-part guest series written by Royce Murcherson, Ph.D., on how to improve your writing skills and behavior. Dr. Murcherson is a faculty member in World Languages, Cultures, and Communications at Richland College in Dallas.
For more information on BOSS course offerings in communications, the BOSS degree and certificates, software productivity classes, and the Microsoft Office Specialist Certifications; contact Becky Jones, Associate Dean, firstname.lastname@example.org 972-238-6215.