We often hear ‘email doesn’t convey tone’. I believe that’s wrong – totally wrong!

The challenge is NOT that email doesn’t have tone. The challenge is that the receiver ‘creates’ the tone, and not the sender.

When Tyson finally got to his emails late on Friday, he was tired after a big week juggling significant professional challenges, unwelcome media attention, and a hefty personal issue running along the side.

His inbox included an email from the CEO. It was factual and written in neutral language – while it lacked warmth, there was certainly no criticism either. One could say the email lacked tone. (The CEO later admitted she had missed an opportunity to include positive reinforcement about the good work being done.)

As Tyson read the email, he ‘heard’ the CEO’s ‘angry voice’, laced with judgment. Feeling deflated, Tyson shot back an email.

An hour later, the CEO read Tyson’s response and – blindsided by the emotion it contained – sent an immediate and defensive response, attempting to explain her initial email. She couldn’t understand why Tyson had not picked up the phone and called.

Both worried about the interaction over the weekend.

You probably have your own version of this story, right? Worry = wasted energy!

Email DOES have tone, and it’s added by the receiver, based on factors like:

  • Their level of energy, health and resilience in the moment
  • The way their day/week/this project is tracking
  • The conversation they last had with you
  • Their motivational preferences (and how that impacts their communication)
  • The previous meeting/phone call they had or situation they dealt with
  • What’s happening at home
  • And any number of other related and unrelated factors!

If the conversation matters – ie if you want influence over the tone in which your communication is received – email may not be the medium of choice! As the receiver, the tone of the email as you interpret it may not be the tone that was intended. If it matters (ie if left unclarified, will it negatively impact the energy of one or both of you?), then pick up the phone or seek out the other person.

Go Fearlessly – Corrinne


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