Saturday, September 18, 2010

Watch your tone.

The rich inflections added to any statement can change everything. A simple "yes" becomes condescending, sarcastic, funny, desolate, worried, elated ... it's all in the tone.

I've been called to task a few times about the "tone" of my emails. I'm always juggling multiple projects at work as well as family needs, so I get to the point, pretty much writing the way I speak. The problem is, an email doesn't transmit inflections. So while I'm thinking, "how are we doing?," as I email "what's the status of xx, xx, and xx?" the reader may "hear" a patronizing,  "Are you doing your job?"

It's all very frustrating. Then I either have to send a placating email (you're doing fine, I just wanted to know how we're doing) or pick up the phone to offer a verbal mea culpa. I have to remember to add warm fuzzies to emails for those who need them, and stick to the facts for those who just want to get down to business. Confuse the two and you get equally emotional responses. ("Don't be so short!" "Don't waste my time!") Worse, chronicly touchy people slow down projects and add so much complexity to what are often already difficult parameters.

Maybe I should start using those yucky emoticons. 

A telephone call is better in delicate situations because you can control the tone and delivery of your message. But that's not how we communicate these days. Phone calls are time-consuming. Send an email, move on to something else, and come back when you get an answer. Voila!

Blackberries and Iphones are notorious for bluntness. You can only thumb-key so many letters and symbols on those tiny devices. I don't own either, but lots of people email me that way. I'm fine with it - I love the brevity of a keyed "yes" or "approved" to a straightforward question. But I also know that some people hate the terse emails, particularly when they don't include the text of the email they're responding to.

 The nature of my work, both paid and volunteer, is coaxing disparate personalities to work together, guiding them without leading them and staying on schedule rather than veering off into emotional turbulence. I also have to read and send close to a hundred emails each day.  It isn't easy.

So I'll watch my tone.

Okay, I'll try to watch my tone.

Nah - I'll probably do it again.

Will a pre-emptive mea culpa in my signature work?

Sigh. Probably not.

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