In Business Email Words and Tone Matter

After the obvious importance of spellchecking, proper grammar and sentence structure – next comes tone. You can have all those variables correct and still underestimate the importance of setting the proper tone in your business email communications.

Let’s define tone:

tone [tohn]
noun, verb, toned, ton-ing.

  1. any sound considered with reference to its quality, pitch, strength, source, etc.: shrill tones.
  2. quality or character of sound.
  3. vocal sound; the sound made by vibrating muscular bands in the larynx.
  4. a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, spirit, etc.: a tone of command.
  5. an accent peculiar to a person, people, locality, etc., or a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech.
  6. 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 email? By being cognizant that the other side does not have your voice (or eye contact or your body language, etc.) to determine your tone.

This leaves you with the responsibility to ensure the proper and desired tone is relayed in your email communications. By virtue of the words you choose and how you choose to use them.

Tone Takes Effort and Forethought

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. Email is communicating with the written word after all so the same efforts should apply.

Sharing an Experience

Sharing my experiences can help to relay how sometimes, things you don’t consider, can have unexpected ramifications. What prompted this post today was a recent communication experience I had with a potential client.

In the initial email, their tone was rude, demanding and downright condescending. This particular email actually had me wondering if this individual was purposefully trying to get me to react in a less than professional manner.

I read, reread and even waited to read it again later to see if my perception changed. I can’t express enough how many times walking away and clearing your head can change how you perceive certain communication styles. This was not one of those cases.

Unfortunately, my perception of the “tone” in this email that most would agree had condescending and demanding comments, did not change. This particular email stated the work process, what I could charge and how they would pay me. That is if I wanted them to hire me.

Never miscalculate that when you are emailing potential partners about doing business together, that they are probably determining if they want to do business with you as well.

No Stooping

As I always do when I reply to emails of this manner, I was pleasant, professional and factual. I provided my “Modus Operandi” that details how I do business which states my processes and fees. Within my response I noted that if my processes or pricing were unsatisfactory, that it would be best they find another consultant more in line with how they wanted to proceed.

I wasn’t rude or curt. Nor was I demanding or demeaning that they do things my way. I am confident in how I do business and simply let them know the details involved. They could choose to be part of that or not.

Their response? “I didn’t mean it that way — I want to do business with you — why do you think I contacted you!?”

In my world I would never think to contact anyone and tell them how they will do business with me or what they are allowed to charge. This individual chose the words they used and decided how to use them.

  • “I will not be taken advantage of like past consultants!!!”
  • “You will provide X,Y,Z in the following time-frames.”
  • “I will pay you $X amount. No more.”
  • “Don’t agree??? Tell me now.”

Wow, right? Even with that, when I replied I did so with the epitome of professionalism and didn’t react to their snarky or demanding tone.

Be Self-Aware

If you type it; you had better mean it. Think about it. Who really types things they don’t mean? When you include multiple instances of punctuation that were totally unnecessary to make your point clear, can you honestly state you didn’t mean it that way?

Tone in your business email should not be underestimated. 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.

Email is now a big-time relationship building tool. You may have only one chance to impress a potential partner or smooth over a mishap with a current client. Every email needs to reflect a level of professionalism and literacy that encourages those who don’t know you to want to trust you with their business.

Constantly work on your vocabulary and communications skills so you don’t squander that one time opportunity. Then, take your time and read your emails out loud before clicking Send.

Care to share?