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Seeing Red in Business Emails

Business Email and Red Type for Emphasis

When senders change specific verbiage within an email to the color red, they make a point. And a strong point at that. One that causes more questions than clarity.

  • How mad are they?
  • Why use red?
  • How should I react?

The use of red to indicate emphasis is an extra effort taken by the sender to make sure the recipient understands how strongly they feel about the topic at hand—purposeful action with intent.

Colors Have Meaning

Most know that red is viewed as an aggressive color. In addition, red is known as an intentionally intense high-visibility color. That is why red is often used to emphasize only specific points.

The term “seeing red” means that someone is mad or so upset that they see red. This has lead to folks emailing me and asking, “What did they mean by using red for certain words in their email?” Usually followed by “Were they yelling at me?”

Making a Point

The sender meant to make a point. To add strong emphasis by making sure those words, in particular, catch your attention. Yes, you could say that they were using a louder voice. But not yelling at you as typing in all caps would indicate.

Now, typing in all red caps without a doubt reflects the sender is upset and unmistakably wants you to know that. When it comes to your business emails, if you have the itch to type in caps and turn them red, it may be best you cool off. Wait until the following day to respond when cooler heads can prevail.

Use Words; Not Color

In over 25 years, I have never changed the text to red as a tool to communicate tone or emphasis in my business emails. You don’t selectively “red” words on your business letterhead, so why would you do it in an email? Simply because you can?

When you use red for emphasis, know that you are leaving that level of intensity to be determined by the other side. Therefore, why not choose the right words that relay your intent and tone?

The English language offers a plethora of words to choose from to make your point. So grow your vocabulary in place of jumping for the formatting bar.

Avoid Aggression

Red has a long history of being an aggressive color. For the ancient Romans, a red flag was a signal for battle. Because of its visibility, stop signs, stoplights, brake lights, and fire equipment are all painted red.

Turning selected text into red is the easy way out and is a dicey approach. Instead, use your vocabulary to communicate what you mean, your anger, passion, and emphasis.

So, if you are “seeing red,” know that the sender wanted to make a point to you—no need to wonder what they meant by doing so.

And if you change the text to red, don’t be surprised if the recipient’s response indicates they saw red and responded in kind.

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