Biz Life // Three Words

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Let's face it, email correspondence is a big part of our modern day-to-day working lives, no matter what your profession is, and it's not going anywhere soon. I don't even want to think about how many thousands (tens of thousands?!? hundreds of thousands?!!?) of emails I've sent since I got my first "real" email account as a college freshman in 2002, but it's mildly terrifying. Not only in the sheer volume of correspondence we consume and send, but in the amount of time spent on and anxiety produced by these digital missives. As a writer and a business person, friends and clients are constantly asking me for advice about how to craft emails that are smart, direct, and kind, without being overly curt or annoyingly chipper. There are many things you can do to polish your email, but I recommend examining, and maybe eliminating, your use of these three words and phrases to start sounding like the savvy, powerhouse you are!

  • "JUST" - Many years ago I attended a Lean In workshop where the facilitator told us to pay attention to how many time a day we say or write the word "just" in our professional lives. I was shocked to find I used it constantly. This little four-letter nasty insidiously undermines your authority by belittling whatever you're talking about. For example, if I say I "just have one concern" about a project, the subtext is that the concern is small and doesn't need to be given much or immediate attention. Can "just" be used to soften the occasional email or conversation as a marker of politeness and deference? Of course! But I recommend everyone, especially women and those new to the workforce or their career, monitor and curb excessive use of this phrase. Chelsea Stone details her experience in removing "just" from her professional vocabulary in a 2016 Glamour article and I loved her assessment, which I also found true for me - it hurt nothing to use it less and over time her confidence grew and her co-workers began to see her as an authority.

  • "QUICK QUESTION" - Similar to "just," "quick question" reduces whatever you're asking. If you're mindful in your inquiries (and yes, there is such a thing as a dumb question) you shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you're worth someone else's time to reply. Ask your question, always say thank you, and don't be afraid to follow up in a timely fashion. I always used "quick question" when I emailed vendors and clients at my last job and then would get annoyed when the response was slow or incomplete. How could I expect others to respect my question if I made it seem unimportant in the first place?

  • Over use of "THANK YOU" - Now, this might seem contradictory to my usual message of kindness, but hear me out! So many times I see the words "thank you" tacked on to the end of an email when it's not necessary. For example, if someone is telling me that an event is to be held at 3pm on Tuesday, it's silly to add "Thanks!" in the sign off. Adding these superfluous "Thank you's" does two unfortunate things. First, it again undermines your authority with a subtext that says "You are so important and I am not, so I must give thanks to you for taking 30 seconds out of your day to read an email!" Second, it devalues your authentic gratitude. When we are truly thankful, for even small things, we want people to know that our words are authentic and weighty, and that our gratitude comes from a genuine place - not just an automatic email signature.

I challenge you to experiment with reducing your use of these phrases over the next month. Let me know how it goes and what changes you see in your professional life and beyond! 

Shea Keats