Have you ever wondered how the people you work with might perceive you simply based on the emails you send?
What word do you think they would use to describe you? Passive? Aggressive? Assertive? Capable? Confident?
This may not matter to you so much if you’re not in a client facing role and aren’t seeking to impress. But think of it this way – aren’t we all seeking to impress someone when it comes to our work?
Consider your boss, manager or even those who report to you as though they’re your client or customer. When you interact with your clients or customers, your main goal is to build trust, for them to put their confidence in you as their service provider/supplier.
Now, imagine your client has never met you face-to-face and has absolutely no reference point to develop their impression of you, except your email correspondence. You’d like to think that you project enough confidence for your client to see you as capable of handling their business!
You could be the smartest person in the room with second-to-none people skills but that can easily get lost in the translation of emails simply because of word choice. It doesn’t matter how information-packed your beautifully written email is, a single word or phrase can so powerfully undermine your projected confidence. Annoying, huh?
Learning from my mistakes
In my years of consulting, I had to learn to use every word in my emails with intention to build trust with the client on the other end of the email (read about how to keep your emails professional here). It didn’t come easily. There are some phrases in our vocabulary that we tend to use out of habit. At times, we may use these phrases intentionally to soften our language for fear of being seen as too “aggressive”.
Aggressiveness is too often confused with assertiveness. You should never have to apologise for or lessen your assertiveness to please another person! This is especially true in a work environment.
The last thing I want is for you to make the same mistakes I made. The value of your eloquent emails shouldn’t be weakened by a questionable phrase that instils doubt rather than confidence in your reader.
So, I’m going to share with you a few words and phrases to leave out of your next work email and simple tweaks to boost the power of your message.
#1 Using the word “just”
For example, “I’m just checking in to see whether you have any feedback on…”
This little word so easily slips in there as a force of habit to seem less direct in our follow ups. The thing is, all it does is diminish the value of the statement to follow.
Replace it with: NOTHING. Remove the word completely from the sentence
#2 Beginning your email with “Sorry to bother you…”
You’re apologising for sending an email that the other person will likely read at a time that is most convenient to them. Therefore, you’re not bothering them. So, don’t apologise for it!
Replace it with: Again, nothing. Eliminate this phrase as the appetiser for your email and get right to the main meal.
I recognise that this phrase might be used more in phone calls, so I’ll also throw in a bonus piece of advice. If you’re genuinely concerned about bothering the person with your call, start the conversation with “have I got you at a good time?” It’s that easy!
#3 Prefacing the purpose of your email with “I know you’re busy, but…”
With everything we seek to achieve in any given work day, it’s likely that everyone is busy, including you. This phrase only implies that their time is more valuable than yours. Write your email as though what you’re sharing will be worth their time.
Replace it with: “I’d appreciate your time to consider…” sends the message that you value their time without unnecessarily elevating its importance.
#4 Beginning a sentence with “I think”
Sure, you’re sharing a thought and that’s exactly what it is, your thoughts. Using “I think” is probably okay when you’re brainstorming via email with your close team. However, when used with a client, it could introduce an element of doubt when it comes to your authority on the topic, compared to a more conclusive statement.
Replace it with: “From my experience…” already implies the credibility of your opinion. If you have no direct experience on the topic, then you can say “from my perspective…” to project greater confidence.
#5 Opening a recommendation with “Maybe we should…”
Like the phrase “I think”, the word “Maybe” before making a recommendation only suggests that you don’t have full confidence in what you’re about to propose. Maybe you don’t, but you don’t need the other person to pick up on that.
Replace it with: “I suggest…” communicates that what you’re putting forward isn’t a definitive recommendation but a suggestion, without the undertones of doubt.
#6 Following a suggestion with “Is that okay?”
This question, like a reflex, pops up out of nowhere when making suggestions within emails. Perhaps it’s because we’re wanting to be inclusive in decision making or seeking confirmation to cover ourselves before we go ahead and implement.
Whatever the reason, there’s a better way. A way that doesn’t weaken the credibility of your incredibly thoughtful suggestion.
Replace it with: “What are your thoughts?” or “Let me know your thoughts” to allow the other person to provide feedback.
#7 Responding to a thank you with “no problem” or “it’s nothing”
I’m not going to lie, I’m guilty of using this response more often than I should! On face value, there’s nothing wrong with these phrases, in fact they’re very common in the “no worries mate” Australian culture.
When it comes to work though, these phrases can lessen the appearance of your work effort, especially if you busted your butt on that project or completed a task that took a considerable amount of work. That’s not nothing!
Replace it with: “You’re welcome” is an appropriate response that doesn’t undermine all your hard work or imply that you could produce the same result in a mere few seconds.
Make these simple phrase adjustments and you immediately sound more confident in emails!
If emails are like the bread and butter of your business and you still don’t feel confident, get in touch with me so we can chat about how I can help you!
By now, you’ve probably noticed these are also phrases you use when speaking to your clients or work colleagues. The same substitutes can be used in your next meeting to confidently contribute to the conversation.
If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read this post. While you’re here, check out a related post on How To Keep Your Work Emails Professional.
Why not spare another minute and leave a comment? What phrase do you find yourself using the most in your emails or conversations?
Oyelola is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She works closely with entrepreneurs and businesses in financial services, consulting and education, writing quality-rich content to engage their readers and motivate action. When not writing for clients, Oyelola provides insights on writing, wealth and work on her Phrased with Purpose blog and shares her faith journey on her personal blog, He Speaks, I Write.