Tone It Up

Without voice and eye contact, all you have are words. Use them wisely...


When you read the above sentences, I bet you thought one of a few things:

“Whoa, this is serious!”

“Wow, Megan is angry.”

“Where does this lady get off trying to tell me what to do? She doesn’t even know me.”

Or at the very least, “Megan, turn off your darn caps lock.”

Every day, I work in a program that requires I hit the ol’ caps lock, setting me up for incidents in email or messenger mode when my accidental caps can be construed as shouting or a clearly angry, demanding tone. Of course, while a sprinkle of accidental caps is forgivable, it’s still careless with a medium of communication that requires care.

When eye contact and body language are removed from the formula, how your tone is perceived is dependent entirely on how you choose to deliver the message. Going to use caps? Well it better be clear you’re excited because otherwise, you’re going to sound like I did up there. Punctuation, word choice, grammar, and spelling (yes, even spelling) contribute a great deal to how your tone comes across.

Can you remember the phone calls you’ve had where you can feel the other person’s stress? Or how about when you can feel the person on the other line smiling through the phone? You know that the conversation will be a pleasant one. Even if that person is upset or needs help with an issue, they are exuding the pleasantries of wanting to work together to come to a solution.

Types of tone

Tone lives in three main categories: positive, negative, or the oft-misleading neutral tone.

Positive: A positive tone doesn’t always have to be all sunshine and rainbows. At the very least, it starts with being friendly, no matter the topic, your actual mood, or the issue at hand. A positive tone is solution-oriented, has a direct and clear message, and can be undeniably recognized as what it is: positive.

Negative: The negative tone – we all know it, we all have done it, and we all, unfortunately, have experienced it. There are times where a negative tone is unavoidable, but it’s how you react to it that determines how the conversation will end. Tone conveys attitude, and even if you’re getting a bad one, that doesn’t mean you should give it back.

Neutral: A neutral tone can be deceiving. From the speaker’s perspective, you’re attempting neutrality – an even keel – but on the other end, you can’t always be sure how the other person feels. A joke can very easily not land. A neutral tone (especially in text, email, or other written work) can be misconstrued and should be avoided if possible. If you have a choice between being positive and being neutral, don’t pick the ambiguous option. Be positive. (Or, rather, be positive! You got this.)

Represent yourself

Tone is important when working with others in pretty much every capacity. Even on a close-knit team, caps or a poorly worded (or punctuated) joke can come across as exhibiting a negative tone. If you let it, it can influence your tone and that of those around you. How your tone is received is how you are received.

Communication is non-negotiable, so stop, consider, and craft your words not always according to you or how you actually feel about a situation, but how you want to represent yourself.

My tone? Cautionary, and dare I say, neutral? Why? Because we all mess up tone, but we don’t have to. So, tone it up! Un-cap, consider your audience, and be warm. It’s free to be friendly – and a whole lot easier than dealing with the aftermath of negative.

Megan Drews, AKA Trans Detective, is part of the Reman U author team at ETE Reman. Reman U is a free e-newsletter that delivers best practices, lessens learned and tricks of the trade to help you build a better transmission business.