I worked at a highly segregated academic environment based on hierarchy.

As a nonnative English speaker, how can I be more sure and confident about my tone is assertive and professional before sending an email?

I had experience working with difficult people. Since then I was trained to sent assertive emails with the “I statements” technique during email conversations. However most of the time I feel using these I statements are also rubbish and artificial.

Also, I have to work with multicultural diverse staff members.

What I encountered most of the time same sentence can be read in different meaning/tone especially by my Western EU colleagues. For an example once I was complained because I highlighted and bold a sentence threshold value of an report. The person was above in the hierarchy and during the meeting I got told “I felt you thought I can not read and understand the report after seeing highlighted and bold values“. At the same time, some of my other bosses appreciate when I highlight important sections of a passage.

When it gets tense, how can I maintain a professional and assertive tone without hitting the enter button and in a blink regret about the reply?

Do you have any practical techniques, tips would like to share with me during email communication in multicultural, highly segregated by hierarchy working environment?

I wish if there is any phrase book that I can copy sentences based on situations.

  • 4
    As can be seen from questions we get here, sometimes native speakers find that their emails are poorly received. All anyone can do is try.
    – AakashM
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 14:05
  • 4
    Relevant question: what's the general communication style of your native culture and what is the general communication style of your organization? I see you're having a clash between your communication style and the general style of your organization - more details here Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 14:41

1 Answer 1


As another nonnative English speaker, I fully understand your feelings. Event though I try hard to use the proper wording, tone, and style (which may be entirely different depending on the recipient) I know that I fail too often.

There are no fixed rules, and a phrase book would most likely not help you much, even though some standard phrases may be useful in formal communication.

If you find that individuals take issue at your communication, you might want to analyze and understand what parts trigger that response, and work on better phrases or form. It is quite possible that you will need to take the preferences of each individual receiver into account.

Regarding highlighting or other forms of emphasis: This depends not only on the recipient, but also on the format. For a simple e-mail, highlighting might be considered noisy, just as uppercasing which is often understood as SCREAMING. For an elaborate multi-page report intended to be read by multiple readers, good typography can help emphasize the important parts, although excessive boldfacing may still be considered bad style. If you have samples of documents and reports that are generally accepted in your organization, you might be able to adopt some of their style.

How to handle communication tension in strongly hierarchical organizations? I don't know, I'm lucky enough to have worked in pretty flat hierarchies with few inflated egos around. If you find that some higher-up is picking on your communication style it is very much possible that he/she is using that as a tool to express dominance. There isn't much you can do about it except swallow it and move on if you find that the complaints are unfounded.

  • 2
    There are grammatical tools that will attempt to analyze sentences and try to determine the tone. Some tools are better than others, but they do exist, and even as somebody who only writes in English, I use these tools to ensure I have the correct tone and tense (present, past, future) in my professional writing. This comment was checked with one of those tools.
    – Donald
    Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 0:40

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