15 November 2011
Tone: It's not just emails that can get you into trouble
Check your website, too
I know, I know. Conveying emotion via email is tricky. A colleague would put EVERYTHING IN CAPS WHEN HE WAS ANGRY, and there was no mistaking it. What is much harder is figuring out when people are being sarcastic, if the written criticism is being said in a constructive and supportive voice or if the expletives got omitted just to get past the spam filters. Recently, I misunderstood a clients request and thought she was angry about it. Really angry. I consider this client a friend and the exchange bothered me to the point that I brooded about it for several days until I could talk to her. And with this amazing "hear-the-voice" technology called the telephone, I was relieved to find out that I had misread the situation. (She had been mad, but was well over it.)
The challenge of getting our voice or tone right isn't restricted to just private texts or emails, either. Our voice is heard throughout all of our written communication, whether it is our more formal web pages or informal Facebook and Twitter entries. The great, multifaceted world of online communication requires different voices and formality for different mediums. What is OK on Twitter is probably not OK in a formal proposal attached to an email. Yes, it has gotten more complicated and we really do need to be multilingual.
So, get a colleague or client to give you honest feedback as to how you are coming across on the different platforms you use. Depending on your demographic, you may also need the input of someone younger or older. There really are generational differences. And remember, every time we communicate electronically, it can go viral. Be thoughtful and a little careful, too.
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