Do you use too much qualifying language in your emails? We talked to an expert

Do you find yourself using a lot of wishy-washy language in your emails, like “I believe so”, “I think that’s true”, “It appears to be”, etc? If so, you are trying to qualify your answers to pointed questions. Can this writing style hurt you?

On one hand, you might feel like not fully committing your answers gives you an “out” if you happen to be wrong, but on the other hand, could this language indicate to other people that you lack confidence or conviction in the things that you say in email?

Though we should never use qualifying language on our resume, our emails are a completely different story. 

There are no hard and fast rules about how to use qualifying language in your emails, according to career expert Alison Green at Ask A Manager

But, there are ways to help point you in the right direction. 

Is using qualifying language bad?

When we qualify our answers, we are managing expectations and acknowledging that we could be wrong. We do this by using words like think, believe, appears, seems, etc, rather than a more absolute language like “It is”, or “That’s true”. 

Green says that using qualifying language will depend on your organization’s culture and the context of the email you are sending or talk you are giving. 

“In some cases, you might need to be slightly deferential or acknowledge that you’re not speaking with absolute expertise.” In this case, using qualifying language is generally expected.  

There’s also the matter of what you’re really saying, Green added. 

It might be best to avoid qualifying language if you are the definitive source and speaking with expertise or from a position of power. If your audience needs concrete direction, then focus your language on delivering a strong, direct, and clear message without qualifications. 

Otherwise, consider a less authoritative approach. 

For instance, if you are proposing the next steps to your boss that he or she needs to approve, then it may not make sense to authoritatively state “the next steps are”, Green said. But, “if you’re the one deciding on the next steps, it’s probably clearer for other people if you just set out what those steps are” in a more direct way. 

When to use qualifying language

If you are responsible for giving direction or in a position of authority, avoid using qualifying language if you can. Instead, use words that are direct and concrete. 

Green said one exception to that rule might be a company culture where using softer language is expected. If you work in this type of organization, it could make more sense to keep your language in sync with those expectations to avoid coming across as gruff or bossy. 

“As a general guideline, though, I wouldn’t worry terribly much about this! If you feel you’re taken seriously and what you say and write is generally respected, you’re doing fine.”

Lastly, do not worry too much about explicitly pointing out the nuance in your statements. Most people understand that things change as new evidence emerges and that we are all doing the best we can with the information we have.