Email is a minefield. Phrases that sound perfectly reasonable to one person may seem cold to another. You can be too formal, too friendly, too salesy, too timid (too full of email anxiety to ever press send!). Use too much jargon and you’ll lose all meaning, but speaking plainly can come off flat and boring. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right when you know the recipient is judging everything from our salutations to our sign-offs.
So how do we go about getting our message across in the least annoying way? It’s time to ditch email double-speak and get to the point.
Here are a few of my own bad email habits and bugbears. Please share yours in the comments below!
In this article by Apple and Google alum Ellen Petry Leanse, ‘just’ is described as a ‘permission’ word. It’s tentative, subservient and oh my goodness, I use it all the time! Even as I’m writing ‘just’ I recognize I don’t need it. ‘Just following up’ is unnecessary when ‘I’m following up’ does the same job with more confidence. It’s a word that I associate with politeness, but it basically suggests that someone else’s time is more important than mine and therefore undermines the value of my email. I am resolved to strike it from my correspondence from now on. Any kind of apology for your intrusion shoud be avoided, this is a common mistake, if you have to apologize for taking up someones time – don’t send the email.
Let’s commit to never again reaching out, touching base or circling back. They’re all meaningless. What are we reaching out for? To tap someone on the shoulder? And exactly which base are we touching? I am not a baseball player. As for circling back, all that says to me is we’re not moving forward. These are the kinds of phrases that made it to the top 50 most annoying office jargon terms – and they’re there for a reason. If we’re all so sick of them, isn’t it time to let them go?
I once worked with a salesman who used up to five exclamation marks per sentence!!!!! Yeah, like that. Depending on the content of the email, he either came across like a hyperactive chimp, screeching his way through an email, or like someone with severe anger issues. He was neither, so why the insistence on shouting everything?
According to Grammarly, the overuse of the exclamation mark risks rendering it ineffective – so keep yours to a minimum. And if you’re talking to customers, save exclamation marks for positive sentences only.
It wouldn’t be sales and marketing if we didn’t throw jargon around like confetti, but there are definitely some well-worn phrases we could surely lose altogether. You may not be using these when you talk to your customers, but you’re almost certainly guilty of including them in inter-office correspondence. Here are just a few of my suggestions for retirement:
- Thinking out of the box
- Blue sky thinking
- Hit the ground running
My problem with these is that they are overused to the point of being meaningless. And if they’re meaningless, then we can ‘put a lid on’ them.
A few months ago a thread on Twitter went viral when people began sharing the passive aggressive ways they would tell people off via email. My personal favorite was the use of ‘regards’ as the most serious of put-downs, as opposed to a friendlier ‘best’ or ‘kind’ regards. It seemed incredibly British, but I’m sure passive aggression is fairly universal – and no doubt, often misread. Of course, straightforward aggression is also totally inappropriate, and since people will certainly continue to annoy us, we’re unlikely to rid our emails of passive aggression any time soon. Let’s agree to ‘dial it down’ where we can.
It's all about clarity
Of course, being less annoying is a positive, but undertaking to change the way we communicate by email is really all about increasing clarity. It’s not worth risking a misunderstanding because your customer isn’t attuned to your email ticks or office lingo. In order to build trust – the foundation for any customer relationship – your customer first has to understand you. It’s your job to facilitate that by communicating effectively and openly.
What jargon do you love to hate? Share with us in the comments!