Don’t Be Tone Deaf

terri cornelius

BY Terri Cornelius

May 2, 2019

Public Relations

Chase Bank is under fire this week for this ill-considered, now deleted tweet.Critics pounced immediately calling out Chase for being tone deaf with a judgmental, caustic post about what the multi-billion dollar company apparently considers unnecessary luxuries.

Another example of a tone turn-off happened earlier this month on a crowdsourcing platform. Soon-to-be dad, Jim, anticipated the need for help when his baby was born and started a Meal Train. The first part of his post is honest and emotional:If Jim had stopped there his appeal might have been better received. But the tone of the post shifted dramatically when Jim posted recipes of their favorite dishes and suggested some might want to vacuum or wash dishes for them! Jim lost his appetite when the twitterverse turned on him.

In this digital age with the eyes of the world upon us, the wrong tone in any communication can trigger a brutal backlash. Striking the right tone, whether it’s a tweet, email or actual face-to-face conversation means considering a number of factors, including timing, word choice, context and audience. Follow these guidelines to ensure your message reflects the tone you intended.

  1. Consider your audience. Back to Chase, think carefully about the audience you’re trying to reach. Is a scolding message about spending from a flush corporation going to resonate with people who are struggling financially? Your audiences deserve respect and authenticity, even if the message is not always what they want to hear. A conversational tone is appropriate for most audiences but too casual can backfire. Clear and concise is best, but too short and your message can seem abrupt.
  1. Use your words. Be thoughtful about choosing the appropriate words to express your ideas, thoughts and emotions: Is the project really being “picked apart and sabotaged” or is it being “scrutinized and challenged”? One sounds angry and defensive and implies no possible resolution while the other could be a fair assessment that leaves room for negotiation. Expressing empathy or some positivity can make a challenging message more palatable for the recipient.
  2. Control your volume and body language. Controlling your volume and tone of voice is crucial, especially in a pressure cooker situation. Finger pointing and flailing arms feels aggressive and uncontrolled. It’s easy to allow your emotions to hijack your tone and the conversation along with it. See March 6 R. Kelly interview here! Unhinged is a buzz word these days and you don’t ever want to earn that label.
  3. Consider timing and context. President Trump was criticized when he told Hurricane Florence survivors to “have a good time” as they arrived to pick up their life saving supplies. Sharing an exuberant, inappropriate message during a time of disaster or distress can be extremely hurtful and tone deaf. That said, a positive, uplifting email or statement is often welcome if thoughtfully and genuinely expressed at the appropriate time.
  4. Slow down and reflect. Take the time to review your message — a few times — to ensure your heart, mind and words are in alignment and you are effectively communicating what you want to express. The wrong message and tone can cause lasting damage, whether it’s a relationship with a client or a long-time friend.

One more thing, if you have any spare time can you whip up a dish for Meal Train Jim? He’s suffered enough!

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terri cornelius

BY Terri Cornelius

May 2, 2019

Public Relations