Module 07 - Positive Emphasis
Why do I need to think about tone, politeness, and power? LO 7-3
So you don’t offend people by mistake.
Tone and politeness are not just issues of civility, but also issues of power. Students entering a
workplace that on the surface seems casual—employees are on a first-name basis; suits are
optional—may be stunned to learn that power structures still exist.
Tone is the implied attitude of the writer toward the reader. What makes tone tricky is that it
interacts with power. The same tone used by a superior to a subordinate may be completely
inappropriate when used by the subordinate to the superior.
Teaching Tip: Have students discuss the different forms of language they may use
with different audiences. For instance, how might students ask a friend to “be
quiet”? A small child? A parent or boss? A room full of noisy theatergoers? Why
might the way they express the same idea be different for different audiences? What
tone would they use for each situation?
In-Class Exercise: In this age of “shock jocks” and raunchy entertainment, what is
and isn’t considered polite may be hard for students to define. Have them write a 1-
to 2-page research memo on etiquette. What are common forms of politeness?
What “rules” exist and who determines them? What are current expectations for
politeness in the workplace? In society in general?
As shown on PP 7-20 and PP 7-21, students should use guidelines when
trying to achieve the tone they want.
Use courtesy titles for people outside the organization you don’t
know very well.
Be aware of the power implications of words you use.
When the stakes are low, be straightforward.
When you must give bad news, consider hedging your statement.
What’s the best way to apologize? LO 7-4
Early, briefly, and sincerely.
Students should be careful about apologizing in business. A written apology in particular may be
viewed as an admission of guilt or responsibility later in a court of law. As suggested in PP 7-22,
apologies are not necessary when
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