These days, with fewer of us able to have those all-important face-to-face office chats with our boss, we’re being judged almost exclusively on our digital communication — aka, our emails.
What we write — and how we write it — has always been important for success in any role, but the pandemic has put our words under a microscope like never before. While grammar, spelling and punctuation are always important, the words and phrases you use in your emails are what separate the professionals from the merely casual correspondents.
We checked in with career experts to find out some of the email messages that can make you appear unprofessional — and what to say instead.
“I’m sorry [fill in the blank].”
Unfortunately, many women are guilty of over-apologizing for anything and everything and justifying or downplaying their perspectives, says certified business coach and author Ivy Slater . “You shouldn’t write ‘I’m sorry I didn’t get this to you earlier…’ or ‘This is just my opinion…’ and other phrases that ooze self-doubt. Rather than apologizing, give your team or boss a head’s up if you cannot meet a deliverable by the deadline, offer a solution to speed up the process, and/or ask for help when you need it. If you are being asked for your insight and expertise, Slater says to own your work and stand by it, rather than downsizing your value and worth.
“OMG, did you hear what so-and-so did?”
As tough as it is to resist gossiping about the juiciest office news, engaging in this kind of dialogue can make you appear immature and petty. Joy Altimare, the chief engagement and brand officer for EHE Health reminds professionals that the workplace isn’t high school. “If the context of the note seems more gossipy than factual, stay far away from that nonsense,” she says. “The golden rule is whatever you put in a note, you should feel comfortable expressing to a live audience.” Just imagine for a second what would happen if your email was forwarded along to others.
‘Xo’ or ‘Hugs’
Are you really sending hugs and kisses to your boss? Or your colleague? Or a client? Though it may feel like a casual, kind way to express gratitude, business profitability strategist Michelle Jacobik says these sign-offs have no place in the business world. Instead, they should be reserved for your personal life, when you communicate with friends, family, or romantic partner. If you still want to keep the tone of your emails as warm, Jackobik suggests closing with ‘Sincerely’, ‘Best Regards’, or other sentiments that still maintain professional stature.
“I’d like to discuss these issues with your current performance.”
When you’re in a manager-level role, you’re tasked with not only completing your own job responsibilities but ensuring your direct-reports complete their work, too. Sometimes, a team member will fall short of expectations, and you’ll need to discuss their performance. If you’re someone who cringes at confrontation, a face-to-face (or Zoom) meeting may cause you anxiety. However, Slater says when you have negative feedback, email isn’t the most professional medium. As an example, maybe a junior-level employee didn’t complete a presentation or didn’t follow instructions, and now you need to return it for edits. Communicating all of your feedback via email will be overwhelming and could cause more confusion than progress. “If you need to email a corrected document, have the conversation first, via phone or Zoom, (or in-person, if you’re there yet), and then follow it up with the corrections. In your note to the team member, show your confidence in them by expressing you know they will improve,” she explains.
READ MORE: 6 Important Business Email Templates
“SEE WHAT I NEED BELOW.”
As in: “SEE WHAT I NEED BELOW.” Repeat after Altimare: never use all caps. Ever! Though it sounds simple enough, she says far too many people — on all rungs on the corporate ladder — forget this simple email and text rule of etiquette. “You may think you’re trying to emphasize a point or highlight a detail – but it translates to yelling at someone,” she continues. “Instead, try to use bold or italics if you really want to highlight a point.”
“Per my last email.”
We will level with you here: it’s super frustrating when you’re asked the same question a few times, and it seems like the person on the other end isn’t listening. But, even if you did explain everything five seconds ago, Slater says sending ‘per my last email’ only makes you come across as irritated, unprofessional and snarky. Instead, consider reorganizing the structure of your message moving forward to avoid this annoying situation. “In preparing your email, put the points that were discussed and that you want to bring attention to in the email you are sending. This way, all your communication is clear,” she explains.
If you still run into the problem, suggest having a phone call with the colleague or employee to pinpoint the root of the miscommunication.
“I can’t wait until I find another job.”
Perhaps you’ve been thinking about jumping ship for a few months — or even a year. Maybe every morning is an uphill battle to pull yourself out of bed and log-in to your computer. There is nothing quite as demotivating as having a job that you feverishly dislike. However, don’t talk badly about your place of employment in an email — ever. Slater says this is true even if you’re sending it to a close friend or colleague. “Emails can be randomly seen or checked, and it’s disrespectful to your place of employment. Inevitably, it will come back as a regret,” she continues. “Any time you have something negative to say, communicate it privately and not on the property of your business. Your email communication is their property.”
“I’m so exhausted.”
You were on back-to-back calls from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., and now you have a solid five hours of ‘actual’ work ahead of you. It’s normal to feel tired and burnt out, especially as many professionals are suffering from extreme Zoom fatigue. However, while it may be how you truly feel, you shouldn’t complain to your manager, colleagues or employee, Altimare warns. Instead, express the need to yourself and take a PTO day. “Save the intimate details for a verbal chat with a trusted colleague or …your mother,” she says.
“I need to know if I have the job as soon as possible.”
During the interview process, you will be emailing the hiring manager, human resources, and your potential new boss. Since these are the first communication opportunities you’ll have with this company, it’s vital to come across as professional. You may be very excited about an opportunity or even nervous about not getting it, which could tempt you to be bold in your messaging. But saying something like “I need to know as soon as possible. I have several other opportunities and offers on the table” is never the way to do it.
As Jeff Herzog, the president of FPC National explains, this phrase comes across as arrogant, and instead, you should focus on a smart balance between your needs and the company’s timeline. “You want to come across as confident and well-poised, not brash. It can appear unprofessional in the eyes of a hiring manager,” he continues. “You might be interviewing for numerous jobs at different companies at the same time, but you want those companies to feel that you are focused on them and have a personal interest in the position.”
A better alternative is: ‘Please let me know your timeframe, as there is another role I am considering.’
“[Laugh emoji], [heart-eye emoji].”
They’re fun, they’re cute — and you use them all the time when you’re text messaging or responding to Instagram stories. But in the workplace? They don’t send a professional message. While Altimare says they could be fine for a birthday email or when you’re sending a note of encouragement to a colleague, context matters with emojis. “Are you speaking about performance or personnel issues? Discussing budgets and revenue? Probably not a time to use emojis as they are distracting and may convey a lack of seriousness about the topic,” she adds.
Bottom line? Any professional email should be read twice before it’s sent, and you should make sure you’re comfortable with every single line. If anything feels off, keep editing until you know you’re sending a message that can only move your career trajectory forward.
More from HerMoney:
- How to Speed Up Your Job Search and Make Yourself More Marketable
- How To Nail A Zoom Job Interview
- 6 Ways to Clean Up Your Resume and Wow Hiring Managers
- Does It Pay More To Be Unemployed Than To Have a Job?
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