More words to cut from your emails
Years ago, I wrote a blog about why you should cut “just” out of your emails. The feedback we’ve had about that blog, even years later, has been huge. I think it strikes a chord with so many people because it shines a light on words and phrasing that can be so profoundly limiting without us even realising it.
I’m back with more words to vanquish because, somehow, we’ve allowed them into our work vocabulary. I find that when I catch myself including them in emails, and I remove them, the way I feel about sending that email changes. So I wanted to share this tool with you.
Consider these two questions:
“Do you have time to quickly chat through this brief? No worries if not!”
“Do you have time to talk through this brief?”
The first question may feel more familiar and easygoing. By comparison the second question may feel too direct, grumpy or aggressive. Let’s focus on the words, “Do you have time to talk through this brief?” These are all neutral words and the request is a reasonable one, with space for the responder to accept or decline without negative consequences. Yet, the wording of the first option is flourishing in the workplace, particularly among women.
This word leans towards informal, inconsequential conversation. You’d have a chat with a friend you bumped into while doing groceries, not with a client. Perhaps we use this in work emails because we want to make the responder feel that what we want to talk about is low pressure and fun, because ultimately, we want them to like us.
But friend, your work is not superficial and breezy and you’re not here for brunch. It’s not asking too much to talk, or to be clear about what you need to do your job.
This word often slips into work emails to show willingness and enthusiasm but it can also put you in a difficult position promising a short deadline on things that may take time to do. It can easily lead to having to compromise on your boundaries, which is the bedfellow of burnout.
But friend, good work takes the time it takes. You are certainly not resting on your laurels. You and your work are worth taking up the space and time they need.
No worries if not
This is the flagship phrase so often tagged on to a request to make the writer seem easygoing. It’s being used so much that it’s been written about.
This Huffington post article explores the idea that a lot of us feel that expressing our emotional or practical needs could be a burden to others. Dr Paidoussis-Mitchell explains: “‘No worries if not’ gives us a caveat, a way to avoid carrying responsibility for what we hope others may willingly and lovingly give us.” The article goes on to unpack why women are more prone to use the phrase.
But friend, your requests are legitimate – you need them to do your work. To ask is not a burden and if the answer to your request is “no”, the responder is an adult and can say so.
These little flags of brightness and enthusiasm feel like they bring cheer to your email but scattering these too liberally starts to make your tone, and your whole way of communicating, extremely high energy.
But friend, you’re not a cheerleader and your job is not to entertain. Nobody will think you’re upset with them if you end sentences with a full stop and there’s language that conveys your warmth while still using a real and grounded tone.
So you use these words all the time. Now what?
It’s okay, friend. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I use them all the time and only catch (some of) them before my email is sent. The trick is that now when you see them in front of you, you might also see a tiny banner that reads, “I’m feeling a little intimidated / self-conscious / out of my depth over here,” and you can attend to that feeling. That’s really useful.
It’s worth trying to change these habits because the person you’re communicating with is more likely to take you and your work seriously if your language reflects that you are grounded, reasonable and that you respect yourself.
So when you see “chat”, “quickly” and “no worries if not” in your draft, cut them. When you see exclamation marks, limit yourself to one per email or dare yourself to use none. How does that feel? The answer is worth listening to.
Here are some kind words to say to yourself, friend. They might help balance out any need to make yourself small or peppy or easygoing for another person.
I am doing good work. I am not a burden.
I am allowed to take up space and time to do my work.
My requests are reasonable and the person I’m asking is an adult and can say no.
Friend, don’t let your words impede you. You and your work are worthy and that worth is limitless.