Tone is one of those things we often don’t think about when sending email, but we really should. The fact is that whether you intend to strike a particular tone or not, your reader will perceive one. In that sense, tone is like your reputation: whether you know what it is or not, you have one. So it’s in your best interest to be intentional about the tone you want others to perceive from your business communications.


But what’s the best tone to strike? Naturally, it depends. Sometimes you need to sound more formal than others depending on who you’re writing your email to. But it’s not just about formal vs. informal; you may want to strike a confident, upbeat, or maybe even an apologetic tone. And you want to make sure you avoid other tones like an ambivalent, arrogant, or an aggressive one.


I teach a class in business communication for the MBA Program at the University of North Carolina, and in that program they advise their students to try to sound “professional and approachable”—a tone thatworks well for most email communications, no matter the circumstance. After all, you always want to appear professional when you communicate for work, and coming off as approachable helps you connect with your audience and build trust in the process.


According to this article from CNBC, Americans are concerned that those who read their emails might misinterpret their tone. And we all know how misinterpreting tone isn’t hard to do—what sounds clearly one way in the mind of the writer might sound completely different to the ear of the person reading the email. All the more reason for very intentionally aiming to strike a specific tone!


Whether or not you think about tone in your email, your reader will perceive one. So let your audience and the situation guide the tone you choose to strike, but don’t fall into the trap of not thinking about it.



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.