Emotional Formatting and Discretion in Business E-mails

Every day I get asked my advice through this site and others about what to do about a given business e-mail conflict, misunderstanding or situation. In these cases, I am always given one side of the story. We all know there are always two.

In most cases the crux of concern is the use of emotional formatting (bold, red text, all caps, excessive punctuation) to make a point. Without seeing the actual e-mail of concern, I am taking the situation at its face value as described to me. I don’t have the personal dynamics that would have me reading things into an e-mail (or the level of emphasis emotional formatting leaves to interpretation) that are not there. Something we all do based on our relationship with the person on the other side.

That is why it is so important to leave emotion out and bring discretion in. Many times your emotions will have you misinterpreting intent, overemphasizing emphasis or completely reading between the lines rather than taking the words at their face value.

If you find you are responding to a business communication out of pure emotion; stop…., do something else, wait until you can respond without your emotions reading into an e-mail something that may not be there.

How do you know the right way to respond to an emotionally formatted business e-mail when you are on the receiving end? The same applies in regard to giving your response careful thought and consideration – a.k.a discretion. Don’t reply in the same emotional manner, instead be a voice of calm and respond professionally and informatively by taking the high road an not responding in kind — and without using any formatting.

You are a professional; you’re better than that. Professionals know how to use the written word to communicate their intent and tone without having to make fonts larger or aggressively red in color with multiple instances of unnecessary punctuation.

I see business onliners flexing their emotional muscles in e-mails every day. Using formatting of every kind all to make sure we know they are making a point of making a point. Can’t they make a point without all that formatting? Because they are not professionals. Being able to communicate with clarity sans the formatting crutch is a clear indicator of a professional.

The definition of discretion is:

–noun

  1. the power or right to decide or act according to one’s own judgment; freedom of judgment or choice: It is entirely within my discretion whether I will go or stay.
  2. the quality of being discreet, esp. with reference to one’s own actions or speech; prudence or decorum.

Professionals communicate in a calm, cool and collected manner, regardless of the situation or if they are having a bad day, while making the effort to ensure that their tone, intend and meaning are appropriate for the task at hand. That’s where discretion comes in. You can’t really teach discretion. You can’t force people to use discretion.

If you are an “emotional formatter”, it will behoove you to start working on your vocabulary so you can choose the appropriate words to relay your intent or tone instead of relying on formatting to make your point.

About Judith

As a WordPress Consultant over @ TheIStudio.com, Judith has coached her clients on the importance of Business E-mail best practices for 19 years. BusinessEmailEtiquette.com is her community service resource site on everything to do with Business E-mail Etiquette.