Check Your Email's Tone

June 04, 2013


A Little Netiquette

Sometime after Steven Spielberg’s award-winning movie “Lincoln” premiered last year, I picked up Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” the most comprehensive study of Lincoln’s cabinet ever written. Goodwin’s tome recounts numerous occasions when Lincoln dashed off scathing letters (many to General George McClellan), most of which were never mailed. Lincoln needed to vent on paper. But he was smart enough to know that his rants, though cathartic, might cause more problems than they would ever solve. Hence, he rarely posted them.

This practice is one that I often recommend to interns, summer associates and new hires, when getting along at work is critically important. When something goes wrong at work—and inevitably it will—employees are best served by venting their emotions in an email . . . that is immediately and permanently stored in a DRAFTS folder. Once their emotions cool, true professionals compose thoughtful emails or texts that move everyone to a resolution of issues.

Of course, the inherent speed of email and texting does little to encourage reflection before communication. From its inception, electronic communications have encouraged users to share their most immediate, visceral thoughts without thinking. Technology means speed. And speed often means thoughtlessness.

In the absence of time and consideration, a plug-in may help. Billed as “emotional spellcheck for email,” ToneCheck promises to help users avoid emailing or texting a message they might later regret. (See The technology scans emails for a variety of emotions, like elation, humiliation, excitement and fear, and flags words and phrases that might be interpreted the wrong way.

It’s not a perfect solution. In the best of all worlds, good sense would prevail over algorithms. But in a world moving at hyper speeds, there may be something to be said to having a better angel of our nature, even if it’s an electronic one, checking the tone of our email voice.

What Do You Need to Know?

Before you hit the "Send" button, always check the tone of your emails.



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