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Tempted to use all caps or colored text to get your point across in your next email? While the firing of a New Zealand woman for her stylistic choices was recently deemed unfair (with damages awarded to the aggro-emailer), there’s still a lesson to be learned by this story, reported by the New Zealand Herald.

According to her employer, ProCare Health:

[Vicki] Walker – who was fired in December 2007 after two years of employment – had caused disharmony in the workplace by using block capitals, bold typeface and red text in her emails.

Email is a notoriously bad medium for communicating emotions. Tone can be mistaken, sarcasm lost, intent unclear. So people resort to whatever tricks their text editor will allow — different colors for important points, bold or italics to stress a point, or the dreaded ALL CAPS to convey that they really mean it.

It is possible to abuse these devices, though.

In most cases, the overuse results in the message losing all meaning. If every third word in the email is red, how much weight is your reader really going to give that as a method of communicating emphasis?

I am a fan of the occasional use of block caps (stress on occasional — I would have made it all caps, but I didn’t want to upset anyone…)  to make it clear that the word in question is the important one of the bunch.  But most agree that an email in all caps is the equivalent of yelling at someone.

At worst, though, violating these email conventions is annoying. Repeat violations might warrant a chat. It might go something like this:

Supervisor: Hey Vicki, the block caps in your emails make people think you’re yelling at them.
Vicki: Oh, gosh. I was just trying to stress my point. I’ll stop.

It’s hard to imagine feeling like a coworker’s use of color in an email or a hyper-capitalized message is actually effecting your life on the job. And apparently, the New Zealand Employment Relations Authority agreed when they awarded Walker $17,000 for her unfair dismissal.

But the fact remains — it can be difficult to convey the tone or intent behind the words in your emails. If you get too crazy with the methods you try, you can alienate people.

So use red and ALL CAPS and bold sparingly.


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