When you write a message to a single audience — especially if you know that audience — it’s often clear what the reader needs to know. But what if you’re communicating to multiple audiences? And what if those audiences have different levels of experience with your subject matter?
Let’s take a look at this email written by Erin White coming out to their colleagues as non-binary. This is obviously positive news, but they don’t know exactly what each colleague knows and believes about non-binary people. When you read this email, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do they use the good/neutral news model discussed in the last section?
- How would you describe their tone?
- How do they structure their message? (Headings, etc)
- How do they meet the needs of different types of audiences?
Subject: Good morning! I’m coming out as nonbinary
Y’all have made VCU feel like home for me for the past 10 years. I wanted to share with you today that I am nonbinary, and use they/them pronouns. I have been out as nonbinary in my personal life for a while and I’m ready to bring that part of myself to my work life.
I have been a member of the VCU community for a long time, I love working here, and I know this is a place where I can bring my whole self to work. I think my work and VCUL community are enriched when employees are authentically present. I think that all you kind folks at VCUL are open to welcoming me. I also think it’s important to be visible to folks in the community, especially students, who are trans or nonbinary.
What does that mean for me, your colleague?
I’m asking you to change how you talk to me and how you refer to me. Instead of using she or her pronouns to refer to me, you can use they and them. “Erin sent that message about their pronouns.” It’s kind of awkward at first but it gets easier with practice.
What can I call you?
– Addressing me: Erin, you, friend, colleague, erwhite, E-dubs, Mx. White (pronounced “mix”)…
– Referring to me: Erin, they, them, theirs, that person, friend, colleague, talented IT professional…
What shouldn’t I call you?
– Addressing me: Ms., Miss, lady, girl, woman, ma’am…
– Referring to me: she, her, he, him, it, Ms., Miss, lady, girl, woman…
What if I get it wrong?
It’s okay! If you catch yourself, correct and move on. What’s important is to try.
Will you correct me if I get it wrong?
It depends on the situation. If I remind you, it’s because I know we respect each other and both care about our relationship.
Can I correct others?
Yes, in the spirit of calling folks in rather than calling them out. We’re all in community with each other, and want to be generous with each other as we learn.
I don’t agree that I should use they/them pronouns for you.
I hope that you can respect me and honour how I am asking to be addressed, recognizing that inclusion is a core value at VCU, so we can work together. Another option is to just use my name instead of my pronouns.
That’s it! There are more resources on how to affirm nonbinary folks online if you are interested. Thank you for reading this far and thank you for your support.
In this email, Erin uses a lot of the strategies we just discussed. They are direct and get right to the point (delivering the key message in the subject line and the first sentence), then provide supporting details. They meet the needs of multiple types of audiences by using clear headings and links to external resources for those who want more information. They also use a warm, positive tone that assumes that the VCU community will be supportive and respectful. For example, they refer to the audience as “kind folks” and stresses that “inclusion is a core value” of the university.
They also think about the topic from the perspective of their audience and anticipate that some people might find using the ‘they’ pronoun a little awkward. By mentioning this, assuring the reader that it gets easier with practice, and giving an alternative (referring to them by their name, rather than pronoun), Erin anticipates all of their reader’s needs.
When you communicate to multiple audiences, you can use the same strategies:
- Thinking about what information different types of audiences might need.
- Using headings to allow people to skim for relevant content.
- Thinking about tone and word choice. How will different audience members react to your tone? Do you need to define any words?
- Providing links or attachments with more information for those who need it.
- Anticipating questions or objections your audience might have and answering them.