“Don’t text me in that tone!”
The above quote is completely true, funny, extremely relevant and a great reminder, especially in this ‘new normal’. We’re now working at home, dashing off emails and texts with screaming kids in the background, getting in texting wars with our spouses – “No one types faster than a pissed off woman” – replying or reaching out to people we’ve never met, thus not seeing anyone’s facial expressions or reactions. Let me be clear: Tone matters more now than ever, in emails, texts, posting, replying to Facebook or LinkedIn posts, and even reviews on Amazon.
Trust me, I know from a very yucky personal experience, just how much tone, for both sender and receiver, matters, How many of us women have said, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” Or told our kids, “Tone, please!!?” I recently had to explain to someone in their late 50s that responding, “OK,” in a text is rude, but “Kk,” is fine. I don’t know why this is. I just know it to be true.
I got into trouble recently, based on perceived assumptions of my “tone,” which generally, I think, is pretty light and breezy. And this is why I find emojis incredibly helpful. If I’m not entirely sure a person will get my humour, I’ll add a laughing or smiley emoji, so they know I’m joking. When I want to show appreciation, I’ll add the prayer hand, so the receiver knows I’m genuinely thankful.
So, I was going to explode when I received an email from someone who, let’s just say, holds the power in our dynamic, at least for the next couple of months. When I first read it, I immediately wanted to go all Real Housewives and write back that their tone in the email was unacceptable, patronizing, insulting, mocking, and took unnecessary personal digs. This was sent from someone I’ve never met, seen, nor heard their voice. Likewise, they’ve never heard my tone in real life. Like most overthinking women, I re-read that damn email about 45 times. (There was no emoji at the end of THAT email to aid me!)
“I think you may have not have a sense of how your tone might be interpreted…You may be used to fast-and-loose banter with people you know, or on a blog that bears your name…” this person wrote. On a blog that bears my name? This person knows damn well my career accomplishments. I read both their words, but mostly the tone, to be insulting, not just to me, a proud blogger, but to every blogger, including on this site. So what if I banter? I banter with everyone!
Meh, forget about those ten internationally bestselling books and all those awards. Am I worried this person will read this and take it personally? Not. One. Bit. According to them, after all, I just “have a blog that bears my name.”
The tone made me so irate, I searched Google for the cost of a punching bag. But, maybe, if they had bothered to call, or suggest a Zoom meeting, instead of sending me a lengthy email, maybe I would have taken their tone differently. Maybe if I heard a voice, I wouldn’t have thought they were patronizing and mocking, as I did reading it.
This email brought back one high school memory. Once a teacher was reading Shakespeare out loud. After only one sentence, he would ask a student, “What’s he trying to say?” I put up my hand and asked, “How can we answer about context based on one sentence?”
I was simply asking a question, nothing more, nothing less. To the teacher, however, my tone was enough to send me to the principal’s office. Of course, I was angry, mostly about the power dynamics. I was the student. He was the teacher. Even if I had been 100 percent right, I needed to pass the damn class. So I did what I thought was appropriate; I walked out of the school doors and headed home to take a nap before my parents got home.
But I’m an adult now! And yet I still really can’t speak my truth, not yet. Even when I do know, for a fact, I am 100 percent correct, and this person is not, I can’t do much, except shut up.
And it gets so much better! This person mentioned tone again, but this time, about their tone.
“I know my tone here might sound punitive and I don’t want you to feel this is a wrist slap…” this person wrote. I immediately wanted to shout, “If you thought your ‘tone’ might sound punitive, why the hell did you hit send?” This is exactly why I tell my teen daughter to, “Say it. Forget it. Post it. Regret it.” To me, it was akin to people who say, “No offence but…” then go on to say something offensive.
So what had I done to merit this tone, I took to be patronizing at best? I had posted on a discussion thread. I had encouraged someone, who could be 18 or 80 – I don’t see faces or get to hear voices – to “set a goal.”
“I’m glad you have clear personal goals…but others have quite different goals,” this person added in her email, a tone I read to be 100 percent mocking that, heaven forbid, I had a goal, and my take-it-or-leave-it suggestion. (When did having goals become a bad thing?)
I let a handful read it, to get 100 percent objective opinions, from people in the same industry, those I’ve known, for years, on a professional level, so not biased, as my mother would be. I wanted to know if I was misreading the tone? Did they really mean to say that, that way? Was I the only one who thought their tone was off-putting? Every single person who read it was appalled, even more so than I was. But…
Soon after, I got on the phone with this person’s boss. Now, this boss’s tone was harsh AF! But, at least, I didn’t have to read between the lines for tone, that’s for fucking sure. Not surprisingly, to me, this person saw absolutely nothing wrong in the email I had received. This “boss” said it was completely objective, and saw nothing wrong in the “tone.” But then…the unthinkable happened!
This person asked me – a journalist! – to delete the email. Who the hell asks that? People who know they may have messed up, did not want this e-mail to be seen, or have a paper trail, that’s who.
To be fair, the email started out okay, even helpful. And it ended okay. But, the rest? Not! And, the irony? The sender has built a career around “words” for Pete’s sake! Wouldn’t they recognize “tone” is super important? I’d go as far and say that “tone” may be even more important, especially nowadays, with so much written communication, like I’m doing here. To be clear about my tone, I’m not complaining. I’m explaining.
I did respond to this email, with, “Noted. Thank you.” This person most likely spent some time trying to decipher my “tone” in a three-word response.
Now, I re-read e-mails twice, before hitting send. And I use emojis. Professional? Not really. Then again, neither is my “fast and loose banter,” but, better safe than sorry, I think. Then again, what do I know? I just “have a blog that bears my name on it.”