Unless you’re on a Zoom meeting or in the kitchen with your spouse or roommate, there’s only one method people really use to communicate anymore: email. Especially in 2021, throughout the pandemic of the past year, email culture has taken on a life of its own, and conventions of the written word have become more peculiar than ever; sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
The formalities of emails, while seen as a necessary evil, can be grating, and even dehumanizing – responding to an email filled with the same verbiage as numerous others feels more like talking to a computer than talking to a person.
In particular, there are six words in particular that are heavily overused in emails, often used as filler rather than productive or effective communication. Here, you’ll learn not just what those words are, but how to use your voice to craft responses with a similar flavor, but much less inauthenticity.
“Sorry” might be the most commonly heard word in emails to date. “Sorry for the delay,” “sorry for the late email,” “sorry to bother you” – these are all permutations of the excessive intended politeness of current email culture. Chances are, you’ve either sent someone a “sorry” insincerely or rolled your eyes at one from a co-worker you know is just engaging in an inauthentic decorum.
Consider using: This is the time where your own voice will come in handy. Rather than saying “sorry to bother you,” skip the ingratiation and stick with confidence: say something like “just circling back on this,” or “I know it’s late, but this was on my mind.”
And most importantly, if you aren’t sorry for sending the email, don’t apologize; your artificiality will do you a disservice if you’re trying to build trust among your coworkers.
“Hope” is another shrug-worthy word that might get a sigh or two from your email’s recipient. At this point, you might be used to opening emails with phrases like “hope this is alright,” “hope this didn’t slip under the radar,” or “hope this email finds you well.” But you might be feeling hostility or hollowness rather than hope, and your placid email greeting may convey that sentiment more than you realize.
Consider using: Instead of regaling coworkers with ambiguous platitudes, a healthy alternative to hoping or wishing in vague terms is to be specific, especially if the other party is more than just a stranger. “How was your weekend?” or “I know you’ve been busy with __” indicate a much more individualized relationship with those you’re working with.
Your emails might also be sprinkled with the descriptor of “happy,” and you might be often telling your coworkers that “I’m happy to hear from you,” you’re “happy that worked out,” or “so happy it went well.” It’s hard to find someone who’s that happy about answering emails these days, so unless you’re known as the cheerful one around the office, using the word “happy” too much comes off as disingenuous.
Consider using: If you’re not happy, don’t feel obligated to pretend – but at the same time, don’t be rude. If you’re not happy to hear from someone, you don’t have to say it; just skip straight to the material, introduced perhaps by a quick show of appreciation for their response.
Additionally, rather than saying you’re happy about an outcome, give your team some credit by saying “I anticipated that you’d do a great job,” or some honesty by responding “I’m pleasantly surprised that the project was well-received.”
“Per” is another word that often emerges – in fact, it emerges more than any other so-called “annoying” phrase in varying research studies. Some permutations of this persevering social pain are “as per my last email,” or “per our conversation.” While this one is relatively commonplace, and perhaps masquerades as etiquette, it can often come off as condescending, and even dismissing.
Consider using: If you need to use something along the lines of “per,” try “in reference to.” Or, if you’re opting for a more casual exchange, the word “in” works as a perfect replacement to “per.”
Sometimes entire sentences can be restructured, and instead of snapping back at an ignorant coworker by saying the all-too passive-aggressive “as per my last email,” you can always address the issue directly by asking, “it seems like something was lost in communication – let me know what’s confusing you.”
The hidden overused term in emails could be one that’s slightly more necessary than others: “updates.” This could come in the form of a question, such as “have any updates on this?” or a statement, like “I’ll give you an update later.” Unfortunately, this essential word can be used so often, that it might lose much of its urgency, and the promise of communication is lost in the insincere language.
Consider using: It might be slightly more difficult to find creative ways to stay in the loop, it’s possible to use your voice to craft something with a more personal touch. Asking the recipient to “keep open lines of communication” can be a more egalitarian way to establish trust.
Another option to remain informed is to ask when a specific task has been completed. “Ping me when this milestone is reached” rather than the unclear, often-ignored demand of “updates” tends to be a much more useful and pleasant option.