My youngest child had an expression she would use when I would say something to her in a manner she didn’t like. You know – things like “wash your hands and come in to eat” or “don’t put makeup on the dog”. She couldn’t really find fault with what I was asking but she would look at me and say “don’t tone me.” Turns out it’s an apt business expression.
I was chatting with a former colleague this morning. Things aren’t going particularly well at his current gig and I had my life coach hat on trying to help. He shared some internal emails to illustrate some of what was causing problems and my mind was blown. Obviously I can’t quote them but the gist of the issue wasn’t what the guy’s boss was doing. It was the tone.
The memo I read was to a bunch of recipients who are not kids. Most are over 30 and have lots of work experience. The note outlined how they were to spend every moment of their working day and was focused on process not on results. Well, that’s not true. The results expected were filling out forms, making phone calls, and which font to use in presentations. There was nary a mention of actual results. The message was an obvious confusion of activity and progress.
More importantly, the tone was demeaning. I don’t know the author but I found it offensive. It would be one thing if it was a summation of what had been discussed in person as a group but this apparently came out of the blue. With an emphasis on accuracy in the presentations the staff was to make, this note was written in multiple fonts (cut and paste job!) and had errors in it.
The takeaway is that email – and all writing – generally lacks nuance. The recipient can assign whatever tone seems accurate and in this case vaguely threatening and demeaning seem accurate. Moreover, never implement new procedures without a team discussion as to why you’re putting the new stuff in place. People are willing to follow when they’re led; they’re much less willing to be pushed. “Toning” them isn’t leading – it’s pushing (or kicking) them to a goal. Getting out in front of them and showing them the way is a lot more productive. You agree?