Tone rangers: Be certain that your e-mails do not offend, inveigle or obfuscate

How many times have you heard someone say, or have said yourself, some variation of: "I wish there was a sarcasm font?" Have you ever been regretful of hitting 'send,' because you thought your words might come off harsher than your intention? How many times have you sent an e-mail, the tone of which was actually misinterpreted? When, in your course of a busier day, you're dashing off e-mail after e-mail, wouldn't it be nice to gain some perspective on what you might sound like to recipients?

ToneCheck, a free e-mail add-on (presently for Outlook, GMail and Lotus Notes), offers a measure of insight. Once installed, ToneCheck adds a 'Tone Alert' bar to the bottom right-hand corner of your draft e-mail messages: white represents a neutral tone; red represents a hostile tone. Below the 'Tone Alert' bar appears a listing of those phrases used that might illicit, in the reader of your e-mail, negative emotions. ToneCheck reviews e-mail draft text across 200+ 'negative' emotions, but allows you to set tolerance levels and to create customized 'ignore' lists. Roaming profiles and 256 bit SSL security means that you can get your message drafts reviewed safely and securely from wherever you are. TechCrunch has called ToneCheck "an emotional spell-check application;" and, while it's not quite that (it doesn't offer suggested replacements), the description is mostly apt in defining what it is that ToneCheck can do for you.

Of course, there are things that you can do on your own, to check yourself, in combination with, or in lieu of, the regular use of a program that reads your e-mails for you -- things like the following:

  • You can, and should, re-read/proofread each of your e-mails before you send them out, as you would any other documents that you submit to clients. If it's a particularly important, or complex message, ask a colleague to review it, as well.
  • Don't send angry messages. If you must write in anger, wait an hour, or several, or a day, before you send the e-mail. Chances are, you won't send it at all.
  • Run traditional spellcheck on all of your outgoing messages.
  • Respond completely to messages. Don't skim received messages, and compose and send a half-reply, that does not address matters fully. Incomplete responses require additional follow-up, frustrate the recipient and reflect negatively on your capacity for paying attention to detail.
  • Remember to include attachments, to avoid more unnecessary follow-up. Here are some great tools to remind you of when you've promised an attachment.

It's very easy to dash off e-mails, in bunches, and without much thought; but, the use of appropriate tone, and the application of a modicum of thoroughness, speaks to your level of professionalism.

Tip courtesy of Jared Correia, Law Office Management Assistance Program and Michael Hochman, Legal Talk Network.

Published February 2, 2012


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