I recently read a Business Insider piece about how people – mostly women – overuse the word “just” in emails. (“I’m just following up on …,” “I just wanted to see if …”)
It was a “permission” word, in a way — a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking “Can I get something I need from you?”
The article was a wake-up call to my own email language. I’m completely guilty of using the J-word to downplay whatever it is that I’m asking for, so what else am I doing in my emails that I probably shouldn’t? While there are many more email offenses out there – many that I do avoid (major typos, awkwardly intimate closing signatures, etc.) – I came up with the four faux pas below that I have been guilty of, and decided to share it with those who are interested in improving their email expression as well.
1. Being too long-winded
This isn’t merely an email issue for me. I am notoriously long-winded in everything I write – Facebook comments, text messages, you name it. I tend to over-articulate my message. This is especially true if the purpose of the email is asking for a favor or checking up on something that should have been completed. In order to not seem pushy, I “fluff” my copy with attempts at humor or excuses to downplay what I’m asking for. Doing this buries the takeaway of the email. It should not be a nuisance to need something or expect a project on time, and employees should be able to get to the point without feeling like they might offend. Adversely, you’re wasting the reader’s time by adding extra padding to your emails, thereby giving them more reasons to delay on getting to your needs.
2. The tattletale CC
This may be one of the worst passive-aggressive email transgressions that can occur. We’ve all been there – in a fit of frustration, we CC our boss (or worse, the receiver’s boss) in an email chain where we feel the person on the other end just isn’t doing their job. The mid-conversation CC says, “I am unhappy about this but I’m going to act like I’m not and let this CC do the talking for me.” By doing this, you completely lose the trust of your coworkers. Two people should be able to (politely) disagree without needing to pull in the big cheese.
3. Overly-excited sentences!
Those who know me know that I have a very sarcastic sense of humor and personality. I don’t get exceptionally excited about events (and if I do, I rarely show it), yet you would never know this by reading some of my emails. Since sarcasm isn’t usually appropriate in a work email – especially one to a client – I tend to over-compensate by using an excessive amount of exclamation points (“Hope you have a great weekend!” “I’m so excited to hear this!” “It’s great to hear from you!”). Because of this, many of my “optimistic” emails probably come across as disingenuous. There should be a happy medium between getting straight to the point and being polite.
4. Reading too much into emails
On the flip side of the coin is the fact that it’s easy to read too much into email style. Similar to text messaging, it’s impossible to tell tone in your inbox, so we tend to make assumptions based on how we perceived the sender’s attitude behind the message. The problem is, very often we’re over-analyzing it. My boss uses short sentences because he’s busy, not because he’s mad at me. The client is asking a social media-related question because they truly don’t know the answer, not because they are accusing me of doing a bad job.
These four faux pas are just a few of many email mini-blunders we make everyday. Can you think of any additional communication errors you’ve noticed in your inner-office correspondence?