IBM's Lotus Software Getting a Technology for Tone

Ann All
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Top Five Rules for E-mail Etiquette

Follow these simple rules to look more professional in the world of e-business communication.

One of my mother's catchphrases that I've managed to let slip out of my mouth more than I'd like now that I'm the mother of a mouthy 10-year-old is "I don't like your tone."


Not conveying the intended tone is a well-known drawback of written communications such as e-mail and instant messaging. I'm no fan of emoticons, but find myself using them a lot at work to avoid misunderstandings. (Even though by now I presume most of my coworkers can sense when I am being snarky, a frequent occurrence. I usually settle for a winking smiley when what I really need is a SarcMark.)


When I wrote a post on e-mail a few months ago I focused on better managing e-mail so personal productivity wouldn't take a hit, sharing a list of tips from Mitch Joel's Six Pixels of Separation blog. His original list also contained a point about misrepresenting emotion or intent, though I didn't include it in my post. Joel pointed out "the majority of e-mails can be misconstrued or taken in the wrong way" and wrote:

Don't be afraid to pick up the phone, set up a meeting, catch them on Skype, or walk to someone's office to discuss something.

When my IT Business Edge colleague Lora Bentley wrote about e-mail etiquette, she got a lot of passionate responses from readers who wanted to share their own e-mail peeves. Surprisingly, none of them mentioned inadvertently (to give folks the benefit of the doubt) harsh language.


Reader Sandra Folk, who works for a company called the Language Lab that provides instruction on improving business communications, did provide a link to a blog post listing top five tips for better e-mail writing, two of which directly address tone: They are:

  • Mind your tone. Use positive language and don't offend.
  • When in doubt about how your reader will interpret your message, pick up the phone.


While it can't completely replace good, common sense, Sherpa Software recently signed an agreement with Lymbix, makers of an Outlook plugin that checks the emotional tone of e-mail, to bring its sentiment analysis technology to IBM's suite of Lotus products. According to Mashable, Sherpa Software will license Sherpa's API to develop a plugin for enterprise e-mail and collaboration software Lotus Notes. Integration is also planned for Sametime, Quickr and other products in the Lotus family of products.

The ToneCheck plugin will work the same way in Lotus as it does in Outlook, checking message content for tone and alerting senders to words and phrases that could be misconstrued by recipients.


Lymbix founders Matt Eldridge and Josh Merchant are on a mission to save business folks from themselves, with Mashable noting the pair hope to sign similar deals in the coming year.


I'd add a caveat for the ToneCheck technology: I wouldn't rely on it completely, much as I never totally trust spell check. As every grammarian knows, spell check looks for misspellings and not misused words. In much the same way, ToneCheck might flag content as inappropriate when it's not and vice versa.

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