First let’s define tone:
noun, verb, toned, ton?ing.
- any sound considered with reference to its quality, pitch, strength, source, etc.: shrill tones.
- quality or character of sound.
- vocal sound; the sound made by vibrating muscular bands in the larynx.
- a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, spirit, etc.: a tone of command.
- an accent peculiar to a person, people, locality, etc., or a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech.
- stress of voice on a syllable of a word.
Did you notice something? The definition of tone pretty much has to do with the tone of one’s voice. Hearing the tone… How does that relate to your business e-mail? If nothing other than you being cognizant that the other side doesn’t have your voice (or eye contact or your body language, etc.) to determine your tone. That leaves you with the responsibility to ensure the proper and desired tone is relayed in your e-mail communications by virtue of the words you choose and how you choose to use them.
This will require your time, diligence and willingness to improve your vocabulary in order to use the English language properly, to its full potential and to your benefit. If you talk to anyone who writes for a living, they would be the first to admit they are constantly honing their skills to be a better writer. And E-mail is communicating with the written word after all so the same efforts should apply.
What prompted this post today was an e-mail from a potential client. Their tone was rude, demanding and downright condescending. I read, reread and even waited to read again later to see if my perception changed. Unfortunately, my perception of the “tone” in this e-mail that had condescending and demanding comments (from dictating how I would work, what I could charge and how they would pay me) in regard to them considering hiring me, did not change. As I always do when I reply to e-mails of this manner, I was pleasant, professional and factual about how I do business while still making clear I didn’t appreciate the tone they relayed to me in their communication.
Their response? “I didn’t mean it that way!” Hmmm… You chose the words you used and decided how to use them. You typed it; you must have meant it at the time. Are you in the habit of typing things you don’t mean? You chose the multiple instances of punctuation that were totally unnecessary to make your point clear and you didn’t mean it that way? Needless to say, I have made the decision to not work with them based on this initial communication.
Especially in business communications when you do not have all those off-line indicators to determine tone and intent, it is critical you take the time to chose and use your words carefully. E-mail is now a big-time relationship building tool and you may have only one chance to impress a potential partner, smooth over a mishap with a current client, or reflect a level of professionalism and education that encourages those who don’t know you to want to trust you with their business.
Take your time, read your e-mails out loud before clicking Send and work on your vocabulary and communications skills constantly so you don’t squander that one time opportunity!