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Communication: Tone and Intent

How you communicate is one of the most critical parts of an interview process. Learn how your tone and intent play a role in conversations with an employer.

June 17, 2021 4 minute read

This is a bit of a personal topic for me. I consider myself a passionate person that can get fired up easily. I don’t think I have ever degraded anyone, but I do consider myself to be direct and to the point. I like staying above board with people and being honest. At a leadership meeting I attended in 2020, prior to the world melting, a speaker made a comment about the effect that how others view what you are saying is more important than what your intent was in saying it. And it really resonated with me.   

As a leader and a recruiter, I talk to a lot of people every day so it’s important that those people have a good experience with me. Regardless of my intent, if I use the wrong tone, I could convey a message that is contrary to what I was hoping to articulate. This could damage relationships or hinder growth for people that are on my team or impact people that I support. I try to work hard to make sure my tone matches my intent. I am sure I do not get it right all the time, but I think it’s important in business and in life that we work towards these two things being in sync. This goes for job seekers as well. 

As a job seeker, you are trying to make a great impression on people. Often, job seekers will not know who they are talking with, so a more conservative approach is likely warranted. It is critical to know your audience. Some people may not be fond of sarcasm, and it may be a primary part of your communication style. This could be off-putting to some. There is a time and place for sarcasm, in fact, I am a big fan of it, but in an interview with people you may not know, it may be something you want to keep in the back pocket. The same goes for using expletives. Until you know your audience, it's best to keep with polite language.   

In written language, correspondence is important to convey tone as well. Using things like all caps in a correspondence comes off as extra aggressive when you may just be trying to show you care about getting noticed for a role. IT MAY BE BETTER TO HAVE A CONVERSATION IN THAT CASE IF YOU CAN’T ARTICULATE THE MESSAGE THROUGH WRITTEN LANGUAGE!!! See how aggressive that sentence came across? When people can hear you, they can tell if you are being aggressive or simply passionate. Avoid the overuse of emojis as well. While you may think you are coming off as in tune with the zeitgeist, you risk coming off as unprofessional to some. A smile here or there to show enthusiasm or good humor in written text is not bad, but still, be mindful of your audience. You never know who you may be competing against for a role, and you want to be careful not to get yourself ruled out on a technicality so to speak.   

How you communicate is one of the most critical parts of an interview process. Given the wide range of communication methods today, be it email, text, social media, video calls or even the old school telephone, it’s important to be well versed in each. Tone is also critical in communication when you are given bad news about your candidacy. Coming off as angry or condescending could jeopardize your opportunity with that company for future roles. Handling rejection and the way you do so is a critical sign of maturity and professionalism. While your intent may be to show your passion for wanting the job, yelling at the recruiter will only be interpreted as rude.   

I am not a perfect person by any means, and I know this is something I likely struggle with, especially with a couple of teenage kids. My wife often must give me a “wife look” and say “tone,” when she catches me slipping and I am thankful for it. Being mindful of our intent and matching it with the right words and proper tone leads to more meaningful communication, stronger relationships and better experiences for all involved. Taking a few moments to process what you are trying to say or the message you want to convey is important. It’s OK to take some time and get it right. It may seem like a commonsense topic, but in reality, it’s hard to practice.

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