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These wishy-washy words make your email look unprofessional

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

May 7, 2021    |     4-minute read (721 words)

Like it or not, email is the primary form of communication among work colleagues and for businesses dealing with customers. Text has been proven to be more persuasive than messages containing only images or videos. That means your email must be written to convey what you intend it to, especially in a business setting. 

Emails that come across as indecisive and vague are among the most common peeves of individuals on the receiving end. While these types of emails sometimes come from people who are trying to impress, their choice of wording has the opposite effect. 

Avoiding the use of certain words and phrases in email, due to their inherent ambiguity, will go a long way toward fixing a wishy-washy email. So, the next time you write a professional email, here’s a rundown on what you shouldn’t include.

Verbiage to eliminate from email, and what to use instead:

  • "I think… "

What to use instead: Here’s what we’re going to do.

Imagine an instance where your employee encounters a quality issue and requests you decide. You respond either with "I think we need to re-run that product order” or with "Re-run that product order."

These two responses convey the same message except for the “I think,” which indicates you are unsure and not good at decision-making, or maybe that you are seeking input from others.

Leaders aren’t just people who make decisions, they’re people who get things done. They communicate ideas and establish direction and then make sure that it all gets done the way they want it. So, simply write: “Re-run that product order.”

  • “I’m sorry… “

What to use instead: I would appreciate your feedback on this.

Do not apologize unless there’s a situation that warrants a sincere apology. Using “sorry” in an email is a weak approach and potentially off-putting. For example, think as a recipient how you might interpret an email that reads “sorry for the inconvenience caused,” or “sorry to bother you.”

As a leader, you need to respect your position, be assertive, confident and an inspiration for others. Use phrases like “I would appreciate your feedback on this.”

  • "It’s just…"

What to use instead: nothing at all.

Avoid using the word "just” in your messages. There is no benefit to using "just" in an email, even if you are trying to make a request sound easy or quick by using the word. Think like a marketer. Communicate the importance of a task by saying “It’ll take 5 minutes” (not “it’ll take just minutes).

Phrasing such as “I just wanted to check in to…”  instead of “you haven’t paid your dues” places you, the email writer, under a sorry-to-bother you umbrella, whereas the fact is the recipient owes you an explanation. 

  • "I guess..."

What to use instead: project, forecast, calculate, expect, estimate

Using “guess” in emails can be perceived as rude. It's comparable to telling somebody to pick up their stuff, which can come off as annoying. And guess what? It probably is! This is why it's critical to avoid using “guesses” in emails.

Anything that you try to predict is a guess. So be selective and use words that prove you have thoroughly evaluated your position. Else you will still be guessing!

  • "I need…"

What to use instead: please, thank you in advance

Resist the temptation to include the word "need" in email. The word connotes dependence while also highlighting the rewards that come from doing what's asked. A better approach is substituting “need” with polite words like “please” or “thank you in advance.” Note, research shows that the respond rate is higher when you close an email with “thanks/ thank you in advance”.

  • "It’s very…"

What to use instead: Be specific instead of using superfluous adjectives.

Some things are important, and some things are well, very important. That's why most people end up using the word "very" in emails.  But when writing emails with phrases such as “this is very/extremely/super important,” it sounds as if you are trying to convince the reader about its importance. 

A leader needs to be particular when asking for immediate attention or addressing a hot-button issue. Use a balanced, evidence-based approach instead of superfluous adjectives like "very," "extremely" or "highly.”

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