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Tone Down Your Emails: A guest blog by Jack Appleman

Welcome to our very first First Thursday! In 2016, on the First Thursday of every month we will feature an expert “guest blogger” in a related field that has a skill or expertise that will complement our services and enhance your professional skill set. Today, we’re joined by Jack Appleman, author of the top-selling 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing and a prominent corporate writing instructor.


Tone Down Your Emails, by Jack E. Appleman, CBC

Have you ever opened an email and immediately felt the sender’s angry, rude or condescending message aimed at you? I’m sure you have. And have you ever sent a seemingly harmless email that offended the reader? It’s happened to me.

Managing your tone is much harder in writing than in person, where the other individual can see your facial expressions, gestures and other non-verbal cues and hear how your voice is coming across. So when writing an email, choose your words carefully or you may be perceived as self-centered and unprofessional—and risk damaging relationships with clients, colleagues and others.

Often, hidden messages in your text can get you in big trouble, as we can see in these examples:

Confused by a colleague’s report

Your email: I may be missing something, but I could not figure out your compliance report. Where are you going with this?

Hidden message: You’re incapable of writing a coherent compliance report.

A better way: To help me better understand your compliance report, please clarify a few points.

Annoyed by client’s inaction

Your email: You haven’t approved the earnings report, which was emailed two weeks ago. This must be filed in three days, so please submit ASAP! Here it is again.

Hidden message: You’re a pain-in-the-butt client.

A better way: To ensure that we meet your filing deadline (in three days), please approve the attached earnings report by the close of business tomorrow.

Puzzled by request

Your email: Why did you request projections from 2013? We never go back more than 12 months, as our industry changes so quickly! If you really need the numbers, I’ll see what I can do. Let’s be sure to use our time wisely.

Hidden message: You’re ignorant about our industry and you’re wasting my time.

A better way: You may want to focus on projections from the past 12 months given how quickly our industry changes. Still, if you believe these numbers would be valuable to you, I’ll see what I can do.

In the stress of day-to-day work where others often irritate you, controlling the tone of your emails isn’t always easy. If you need to let off some steam, go ahead and write that harsh or condescending email—but be sure to hit Draft and not Send. Then give yourself some time to cool off and re-read your message. Hopefully, you’ll edit out the destructive text and send a productive message that reflects your professionalism.


About the author

Jack E. Appleman, author of the top-selling 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing, is a prominent corporate writing instructor. His workshops, webinars and coaching have helped thousands of working professionals achieve better results from their writing. jack@successfulbusinesswriting.com/@writecoachjack