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5 Irritating Phrases You Should Avoid Writing in Emails

Not sure about you, but I've definitely wasted too many minutes of my life agonizing over the tone and content of emails, whether sending an idea, asking for a favor, or even following up on something someone actually said they wanted(!) only to be "ghosted" or get a curt reply.

Judging by the fact that "What Not to Say in an Email" was trending on LinkedIn this week with over 95,000 readers, seems like we've all been there. As LinkedIn editor Jessica Hartogs surmises, "it can sometimes be difficult to express a task, or even yourself, on a screen." Here's a summary of the top tips:

To avoid miscommunication or coming off petty or passive-aggressive, communications expert and author of "Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance,” Erica Dhawan suggests replacing these five phrases and why:

  1. Per my last email... What it actually means: “You didn’t really read what I wrote. Pay attention this time!”

  2. For future reference... What it actually means: “Let me correct your blatant ‘mistake’ that you already knew was wrong.”

  3. Bumping this to the top of your inbox... What it actually means: “You’re my boss [or employee]. This is the third time I’ve asked you. I need you to get this s*** done.”

  4. Just to be sure we're on the same page... What this actually means: “I’m going to cover my a** here and make sure that everyone who refers to this email in the future knows that I was right all along.”

  5. Going forward... What it actually means: “Do not ever do that again.”

In her book, based on the study of emailing behaviors, Erica found that sometimes we perceive coded language as a micro-aggression - one that fuels already bad feelings or even creates them where they didn't exist.

She offers two tips for writing better emails:

  1. Avoid responding to messages or emails when you’re angry or frustrated. This prevents miscommunication, wasted time, and regret. If you feel emotionally hijacked, save your email message as a draft and revise and send it when you’re in a better mood.

  2. Give people exactly what they need to take action (in a kind way). Assume good intent and show empathy and encouragement. Replace imperatives like, "Do this," with conditional phrases like, "Could you do this?"

Of the many other suggestions, my favorites were:

From Jordan Thibodeau, Slack, "The goal of your business communication is to get people to do something." He agrees never to write when you are upset or emotional, but adds two further tips that are useful:

  1. Assume people will misunderstand your email. Re-read and fix it.

  2. Keep messages short and sweet. He re-reads every message not only for grammar but for succinctness and thinks to himself, "What do I want this person to do? What is necessary for this message? And what is just filler?" He then "takes a scalpel to the message, sometimes a machete if it was TLDR (Too Long, Didn't Read)"

Another great suggestion came from Lyssa C. Stapleton, PhD who has stopped using the word "just" in emails. "This was a game-changer for me, with regard to how I phrase memos and emails, it makes your statement passive." She explains, "I'm just getting in touch to ask if you have..." is much stronger without just "I'm getting in touch to ask if you have..."

Bottom Line: Keep emails short and specific to the action you need from the other person. Be kind and avoid jargon that might make you seem passive-aggressive.


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