How to use the right tone in emails

When leaders send emails, everyone is watching.

Your messages are more than facts and figures about the business. Each word carries tone and significance, and employees scrutinize every sentence in search of meaning.

  • “He used bold on the words right now. Is he mad at me?”
  • “She wrote an entire paragraph in italics. Uh oh. I guess I screwed up big time.”
  • “Did he leave CAPS LOCK on by accident or is he really annoyed?”

Even if you don’t apply liberal doses of bold, italics and caps lock, there’s another way your emails can give off the wrong vibe.

Your lines are too pithy.

Like this one.

This one too.

Terse sentences suggest to the reader, “I don’t enjoy writing emails to you.” And that notion can freak out subordinates.

What did I do wrong?

Oh no


Bold, italics and caps lock swirling in their brains.

Before you send an email to your team — or, frankly, to others in your business network — ask yourself:

  • Do I have a lot of short sentences that end in periods?
  • Does it feel like my responses are hurried and void of any detail?
  • If I were working under me, would this email throw me off?

If any of the answers are “yes,” then here are some simple fixes.

  • Instead of one-word answers, think how you can add a bit of a longer answer. I don’t mean write 300 words, but imagine if you were face to face with the email recipient. Would you only use the word “Fine.” in your response? What would you actually say?
  • Before you dive right into a request, command or critique, could you add a bit of conversation? No, don’t dance around a sensitive subject. But if the topic is benign enough, make the email feel like a conversation and not a robotic, emotionless exchange.
  • Print out the email and look at it on paper. Read it aloud. Does your inflection seem off? If so, edit the message so you come across friendlier.
  • Again, when you’re in charge, every word matters so watch your tone.

Believe me, your employees will.

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