Set the Context for your Communication.

“Can I get those documents by 5:00 today?”

If spoken with a smile, this question will probably elicit an answer of “Yeah, sure.”

If included in an email, however, anything can happen.

If your reader is having a good day, she may respond, “Sure, no problem!”

But if she is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, or if you’ve had tense interactions in the past, she may react badly. Maybe she’ll think you are demanding, rude, or cold.

That’s the problem with email tone: To a great extent, it exists in the mind of the reader. Yet we as writers need to ensure that our readers perceive our emails as friendly and upbeat.

Why is it so important to manage our email tone? Think of a time when you received an email whose tone you interpreted as cold, angry, or rude. When you read that email, how did you feel about the person who sent it? Did the tone make you more likely to accept the person’s message or more resistant to it?

Maintaining a friendly email tone is essential because it determines whether our reader’s mind will flower open to receive our message or slam shut to resist us. In other words, the wrong tone mars our messages and diminishes our effectiveness as communicators.

To  manage your email tone more effectively, try these three tools:

1.   Re-read and visualize your reader.

Think of a time when you wrote an email that offended your reader. Were you surprised by their reaction? Probably not. If you had re-read your email and imagined your reader reading it, you’d have known to revise. So take a moment to review your email before you send it. Imagine your reader absorbing your message. How do they feel?

2. Smile when you write. 

Research shows that smiling improves your mood. (It also makes you look younger and thinner!) If you keep your mouth relaxed into a slight smile, you will be unable to write a snarky email. 

At the same time, don’t be too cheery. In a business email, avoid multiple exclamation marks, textisms like OMG, excessive emojis, and any other text or punctuation that would make you seem saccharine. Your good energy must be genuine. 

3. Greet the gregarious reader.

A brief introductory phrase such as “Hope you’re enjoying the season,” or “Welcome back from your vacation,” signals the reader that you see them as a human being, not some utilitarian cog. You’re not going to win a Pulitzer for this opening gambit, but that doesn’t matter. Just break the ice with a humanizing comment. 

4. Close with appreciation. 

Let’s face it: We all like to be appreciated. That’s why emails that contain thanks are measurably more likely to receive a response than those that close with a simple “Sincerely”. Grammarly has listed a variety of ways to say “thank you”, including “Thank you for your help,” “Thank you for your consideration,” or, to make a more powerful impact on your reader, “Thank you for the effort you put into making today’s program work.”  The more specific you can be with your thanks, the more authentically you will come across.

Your tone sets the context for your communication. If the tone is pleasant, the content will seem more agreeable. If the tone is harsh, you’ve defeated yourself. So visualize your reader as you revise, open and close humanely, and keep smiling.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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