Having a website like this means I get asked for my advice about what to do about certain business email conflicts. Just as in the offline world, there are generally two sides to every story.
In most cases, the crux of concern involves emotional formatting (bold, red text, all caps, excessive punctuation) to make a point. I am regularly asked about the point being made. “What did they mean?”
Without seeing the actual email, I have to take the situation at its face value as described to me. But without knowing the personal dynamics between those involved that contribute to the implied meaning, there is no way to know for sure.
I’m also not privy to the level of emphasis that a particular person uses to make a point. Do they do this with everyone and every email — or just the recipient? After all, we perceive things differently based on our relationship with the person on the other side.
The fact is you could send the same emotional email to different recipients for which you have varying degrees of a relationship and get different responses. That is because it is human nature to have your relationship be applied to your communications.
Leave emotion out and bring discretion in.
Often, your emotions can cause you to misinterpret intent, overemphasize emphasis, or completely read between the lines. Instead, it would be best if you take the words used at their face value.
If you find you respond to a business communication out of pure emotion, stop and walk away. Do another task. Wait until you can respond without your emotions reading into an email, something that may not be there.
How do you know the right way to respond to an emotionally formatted business email? First and foremost, give your response careful thought and consideration – a.k.a discretion.
Do not reply in the same emotional manner. Rather be a voice of calm and respond professionally and informatively. Take the high-road by not responding in kind — without any formatting.
But the Emphasis is Clear!
You are a professional; you’re better than that. Professionals know how to use the written word to communicate their intent and tone. Therefore, you do not need to make fonts larger or aggressively red in color. You also do not use multiple instances of unnecessary punctuation.
I see business senders flexing their emotional muscles in emails every day. Using formatting of every kind to make sure we know they are making a point.
Is it they can’t make a point without all that formatting? Maybe not… So let’s lean into discretion.
The definition of discretion is:
- 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.
- 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 even if they are having a bad day. Pros make an effort to ensure that their tone, intent, and meaning are appropriate for the task at hand.
This is where discretion comes in.
If you are an “emotional formatter,” it would behoove you to start working on your vocabulary. Then you can choose the appropriate words to relay your intent or tone instead of relying on formatting to make your point.