Responses to the Twitter thread revealed a wide range of seemingly harmless phrases that people often employ as passive aggressive put-downs (Credit: Twitter)
Watch out for puzzling punctuation
Opinions vary when it comes to exclamation points, ellipses and capital letters, and what using them in an email says about the sender. While younger people may pepper emails with exclamation points to sound friendlier, older workers use them more sparingly. For twentysomethings, “exclamation points just mean you’re friends, while a period signals seriousness,” says Lahiri.
Ellipses can be equally confusing, signifying the end of a sentence for older people but having a negative connotation for younger people. All caps in an email might come across as an expression of anger for some, but that’s not always the case when used by older generations, Lahiri adds.
We all reflect different emotions and language styles in our writing
And, email interpretation can differ depending on gender. In her research, Tannen found that women who didn’t use exclamation marks, repeat letters (i.e. sooo or loooove) or other signifiers of their emotion in emails were interpreted as cold by some recipients. But men who sent straightforward emails with little emotion were not, she found. Men also tend to send shorter emails and often include jokes, which can be misunderstood by the email’s recipient, cautions Tannen. “Be aware of what these phenomena say about you and how they might be interpreted,” she adds.
Tweak the tone
While it’s always good to initiate email communication with professional politeness, you can dispense with the formality as the relationship develops and you become more familiar with someone. Another trick Tannen recommends is to mimic the tone of the person you are emailing.
And if you’re still anxious about how your business emails are being interpreted, technology can help. Online tools including Boomerang’s Respondable and IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer can help you decipher the hidden meaning in your own, or someone else’s messages.
“We all reflect different emotions and language styles in our writing,” says Rama Akkiraju, an engineer at IBM’s Watson division on their San Jose, California campus. This artificial intelligence analyses everything from word choice to length and punctuation of a piece of text to tell you whether it sounds extraverted, say, or agreeable or confident.
Think about your sign-off
The best way to end an email is to be forward looking and show gratitude, says Boomerang’s Moore.