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Do Your E-Mail Messages Convey Unintended Hostility? Try a Tone Editor

Posted Jul 27, 2010 9:53 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lawyers who want to cleanse their e-mail messages of underlying hostility or barely disguised disdain may want to try out a new product called ToneCheck.

The program scans e-mail messages sent through Microsoft Outlook and flags phrases that appear to be fraught with unintended emotion, both negative and positive, according to stories by National Public Radio, ABC News and Business Insurance. But Fast Company questions whether removing too much emotion may be overkill.

Legal Blog Watch links to a demonstration.

The software, sold by a Canadian company called Lymbix Inc., spots phrases that are too emotionally charged. For example: Someone who writes, “I hate the constant interruptions” of e-mail, may be warned of an angry tone. Or someone who writes that something is annoying or troubling will be prompted to say instead, “It has been concerning me for some time.”

Fast Company put a May 14 New York Times column by Maureen Dowd into an e-mail and let ToneCheck do its work. The column was in the guise of an e-mail from the vice president asserting that Elena Kagan “is a real girl’s girl” and that assertions to the contrary were not to be believed.

“She never watches the Rachel Maddow Show,” the purported e-mail/column asserts. “By 9 p.m., Elena’s usually snuggled up in bed in a lacy peach peignoir, scrawling ‘Mrs. George Clooney’ in the margins of Blackstone’s Commentaries.” Later, Dowd writes in her vice presidential alter ego that Kagan "been talking for months about going to the first matinee of the new Sex and the City movie. Give that Cosmo girl a Cosmo and watch out!”

ToneCheck identified the Rachel Maddow comment as “angry” and the Cosmo girl sentence as "fearful."

Concludes Fast Company: “For people already afraid that their time in front of screens is taking the humanity out of communication, it’s best to leave digital tone-checking to the cyborgs."

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