One of the reasons I dislike conducting business via email is because so many misunderstandings happen when you can’t hear a person’s voice or read his expression. Many of my conversations are via some form of text lately and there are times when I misread someone’s tones and intentions – and vice versa. Sometimes during a tense, delicate conversation it’s best to proceed with caution.
Over a decade of being in business for myself, I’ve found that there are times when I need to carefully consider my words so others aren’t offended or insulted. I also learned proper choice of words can be the difference between landing a lucrative gig and having a client pass because he doesn’t like the attitude.
If you find folks take issue with your tone, even when you feel no tone is implied it may be time to carefully consider your words.
10 Tips for Carefully Choosing Words
1. Avoid Using the Word “You”
I find that when using a general “you,” as in everyone who reads this blog post, someone will become offended as if I was singling him out intentionally. In email and while conducting business, it’s also good to be cautious when using “you.” Depending on the type of exchange, “you” can be accusatory or inflammatory. It might also look as if you’re putting the onus on the other person. When doing business, tone means everything. If the party on the other end feels as if he’s being disrespected, it can kill a deal.
2. Avoid Pointing Fingers
This goes hand and hand with the “you” thing. The other party might be wrong and might have messed up, but telling him everything is his fault won’t diffuse a situation. Instead of pointing fingers or avoiding all responsibility, move on. In most cases, who is right and who is wrong has no bearing. Instead work on rectifying things and putting out a more positive vibe. Saying, “you should have…” or “if you hadn’t have…” won’t change something that happened in the past.
3. Avoid Barking Orders
Another “you.” Telling people “you need to….” take some sort of action is brusque and off putting. Manners count and “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Instead of saying, “you need to…” try saying “my recommendation is…” or “this method has worked well in the past…”
4. Avoid Condescension
Talking down to people only creates bad feelings. Even if you’re sure the other guy has no idea of what he’s talking about, it’s never a good idea to make him feel like a peon. Share expertise without lecturing, pontificating and oneupmanship.
5. Avoid the “Send” Button When Angry
Firing off notes in anger feels so good, but the outcome can be so, so bad. By all means, get it off your chest if you need to, but wait a day or two and revisit nasty notes before sending. Chances are, they’ll seem a bit hostile and it’ll best to rewrite or let it go.
6. Avoid Being Too Formal
People don’t know what to make of colleagues or collaborators who are overly formal. There’s a certain point during business relationships where we can drop the formality and let a little more personality shine through. Formal sounds stilted and impersonal. People don’t trust formal and impersonal as much as they do personable.
7. Avoid Being Too Casual
With that said, it’s also off putting to receive email that’s too casual. It’s one thing to loosen up the tone, it’s another to make everything about the kids and the dog. Be personal without falling into the TMI category. Also, if you don’t know how far the other party wants to take the relationship, it’s best not to assume the buddy thing is happening.
8. Avoid Insults
Insults, veiled or otherwise, always come back to haunt us, even if we think we’re being subtle. Leave them out of the conversation,. Intelligent people can think of non-insulting words to use to illustrate a point.
9. Avoid Sarcasm
Not everyone gets sarcasm and humor isn’t always funny in text form. Unless you’re absolutely sure the other person will get it and not take offense, it’s best to avoid it altogether.
10. Avoid Email
If you don’t want people to misread your tone, inflection, or intention, use your phone or arrange for face to face meetings. It’ll could save on a lot of damage control in the long run.
What are your tips for choosing words? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone misread your tone? What did you do to diffuse the situation?