Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Written by Fingal Pollock - Skillset writing specialist

It’s vital to establish and maintain rapport in your written relationships – or your reader will start to skim.

One of the keys to achieving rapport is learning how to ‘match the tone’ of the reader’s email or letter.

It can be tricky, because you don’t have the fluidity and flexibility that comes with a face-to-face conversation. However, you can turn that to an advantage because you can take your time to form a careful response.

When you match the tone of an email, use a similar tone, We don’t need to write in a stuffy way just because the writer of the original email or letter believes that it’s the proper way to write. We should reply in a slightly more formal tone than we normally would, but not so that we come across as just another bureaucrat. If your reply is conversational and helpful you are unlikely to upset even the most conservative reader.

It can be helpful to regard it as a conversation you may have with them, with a little more finesse. By imitating the vocabulary, you are already adhering to the golden rule: write for your reader.

It’s also important to match the level of emotion, especially when you are dealing with a complaint. When we match emotion, we are following the golden rule of rapport: allow the other to feel heard..



Hey – I noticed that no one’s been around to check on my emissions for a while but then I got a letter saying that I hadn’t declared them. I don’t want to be the one blamed! It’s not my fault so can you sort it out.

Appropriate response...

Good morning, Bob

Thanks so much for letting us know about that. Of course, that is a concerning situation and I’m glad you told us about it. I’m going to look into that now and see why that may have happened. I’ll get back to you asap.

Note how I have taken an informal tone, respected his concern without taking blame for it and get straight to the point without going too over the top. It would be a little bit too much to respond like this...

Gidday Bob

Jeez mate, that’s no good. I’ll have a call round the office to see what the heck is going on! My bad. Catcha later.

Not only is this response much too informal, it has also accepted a level of blame for what has happened, which could lead to some problems later. At the other end of the formality scale, you can imagine how alienating it would be for Bob to get this in his inbox:

My sincerest apologies for the delay in an onsite visit. And to receive a letter stating the very thing that should have been obtained by one of our staff was simply unacceptable. I shall immediately attain for the oversight of my colleagues and a member of our team will confirm a new appointment as soon as is able.

That response is excessively formal, accepts some level of blame and has mis-matched the level of emotion. I mean, it’s been an annoying experience for Bob but it’s not the end of the world, right?

When we match the tone in an email, we are creating an appropriate response that suits the situation.

We don’t need to accept blame and we can offer solutions once we have communicated a fitting level of empathy to the situation. By matching the tone of your client in your business writing you are building rapport and fostering good communication for moving forward in the future.

Ka kite,


business writing laptop

How will we know it's good?

Let's see if we can agree on a few tests of effective writing. Here are mine.