Capturing the Right Tone: Writing Effective Emails to Customers & Colleagues

Thank goodness for email. Yes, really. What other means of communicating offers savvy business users as much control of their messages? Telephone calls, Zoom meetings, and face-to-face talks are excellent for real-time, two-way conversations. But email is fundamentally different. 

Email is more forgiving. The effectiveness of a live business call relies a lot on an individual’s performance on the call. Did I misstate that fact? Why did I mispronounce her name twice? Was I on mute when I cursed? Email, on the other hand, affords users the time–and breathing room–to construct and deliver pitch-perfect messages.

Why Care About Email Tone?

Content is what you say in an email. Tone is how you say it. Ever receive an ALL CAPS email? The tone you perceived–whether intended or not–likely triggered agitation and overshadowed the email’s substance. Mismanaging or disregarding tone in your emails can strain customer and colleague relationships. Too formal, too casual, or “too anything,” can distract from the substance of your message and reduce its effectiveness.

Remember wanting something expensive as a kid? You probably approached your mother and father, and ultimately a grandparent, using different tactics. Whenever we press Send on an email, we’re asking for something valuable: someone’s time, attention, or assistance. Or we’re replying to someone else’s request for our time, attention, or assistance. So be thoughtful and deliberate in wording your requests to get what you’re after.

Make Time to Manage Your Tone

We spend so much of each workday on email–reaching out, replying, saving some messages for later, deleting others forever–that we need to make our emails count. Every email is an arrow, and our reasons for writing them are our targets. To increase our percentage of bullseyes, we need to take a breath and focus on each arrow’s effectiveness.

There are other ways to reclaim more of your time. Consider using a software service like SaneBox to tame your inbox. SaneBox’s A.I. learns from your past inbox behavior and continues learning to sort your incoming messages the same way you would. Think of the time and effort you’ll save. Think of SaneBox as self-care.

How Do I Use Tone Effectively?

This is the easy part. Imagine you’ve met a potential client at a conference. How would you begin to establish a business relationship with them? You’d be friendly. Courteous. Confident in your knowledge. Prudent in what you say. You’d behave like the professional you are. Do the same with your emails. Simple. Safe. Effective.

Whether you’re emailing a customer or a coworker, keep your “professional hat” on. All the time. If there’s a glimmer of a possibility that your words could be interpreted as inappropriate or untrue, stop and reconsider. You can be a bit more expressive in person. The tone of your speaking voice and your body language says more than is possible to spell out in an email. Writing too casually, too loosely, and assuming too much familiarity with the recipient isn’t worth possible repercussions.

Other sensible rules of thumb:

  • Use appropriate business email etiquette.
  • Be clear and concise.  
  • Use positive language. Be encouraging and collaborative. Accentuate how the recipient could benefit from your proposals or requests. “Are you available to attend the first half of Thursday’s 10:00 AM meeting? Your relationship with the vendor should help IT negotiate a more favorable rate for the organization’s software licenses.”
  • Avoid sounding apologetic when it’s not warranted. “Sorry to bother you” and “just wanted to see if” conveys a lack of confidence.
  • Be respectful of how individuals want to be addressed.
  • Check spelling and grammar before you click Send.

Boosting Email Effectiveness

Want to love email a little more? Assess how you are or aren’t harnessing tone to achieve your objectives. Email allows us to consider our words before anyone else receives them. Exploit that reality. Keep your Caps Lock off. And remember to check out SaneBox