The Tyranny of the Email Tone

The Tyranny of the Email Tone

Noma has a new boss.

Noma is worried that the new boss doesn’t like her, or that she has done something to annoy her.  She had a good relationship with her previous boss, and she’d like to feel comfortable with the new one.

Each of these supervisors communicated with Noma primarily by email.  Here’s an example of their messages:

Previous boss:

“Noma, we need to get the quarterlies to finance a little early this week- I hope that won’t stretch you too much.  Let me know if you can send them up by Thursday afternoon.”

New boss:

“Noma, you need to send the quarterlies to finance by Thursday afternoon this week. Thank you.”

Noma mentioned her concern to a colleague, who observed that people have different styles of communicating; that email can be notoriously guilty of projecting an unintended harsh tone; and that the new boss may be too busy to include chit-chat or softening in her work messages.

Noma accepts this information, and she also knows that she could be less sensitive, and that she could build a relationship with her new boss by speaking with her in person whenever possible.  But her unease continues.

How important is this?  If you’re Noma, it’s important enough that she may carry her uneasy feelings about the new boss into her work.  If you’re the new boss, it’s important if she begins to sense resistance from Noma, and thinks of her as a potential problem.

Lesson to all:  Be careful out there with those emails!  No-one can hear that upbeat, collegial tone of your voice- they just see the stark, unyielding words.  Choose them carefully!

Check out Spotlight on our Good Stuff page, and hear what Jane has to say about terse emails.


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