6 Minute Read

Just, Sorry and Other Email Gaffes

Last year, Ellen Leanse, the tech bigwig with Google and Apple on her resume, posted an email rule she encouraged women to follow. Somehow, it missed most of our radars (or at least mine) until a few months ago, when she reposted the original article on her LinkedIn. Now, her revelation is making headlines and leaving everyday email users like myself wondering if we need a big change.


It’s Nothing Personal…

…but I always thought there’s a chance my recipient might think so. Here’s the deal, 93% of communication is nonverbal, so written text is lacking the necessary parts of human connection that will let your listener (or reader) know what you really mean with your words. Think about that time your significant other sent you a short response after you poured your heart out. Instead of you seeing how sincere that short response was, you’re left angry that he or she couldn’t muster a few more fluff words to keep you warm at night.

And that’s just the problem Leanse is talking about. During her time at a Silicon Valley agency, she noticed the common appearance of “just”, a pillowy word that would pop up in email and conversation alike. For instance, all those times you are “just following up on the previous email” or “just checking in on the progress.”


Just, the Bigger Problem

She thought back on her previous work environments and began to sense women used the word a lot more often than men. After a small experiment performed on a diverse group of young entrepreneurs, she was less than surprised to find her theory was proven correct. Women are using the word more than men and, in the case of her experiment, at a ratio of 5:1.

Unfortunately, this is more than the case of an overused word. Like a shy knock at the door, the word subtly admits subordination and seeks permission from the recipient. No matter where you are in the world of work, this will affect your authority on the subject. With more companies hiring new talent over experienced pros there’s no reason anyone shouldn’t feel like an integral part of an organization.


Point Blank Clarity

Aside from admitting the word might be killing your momentum, omitting it adds clarity to just about any sentence. And it wasn’t that long ago that Maren decreed a company-wide limitation on the word “that”, another filler word responsible for tripping up a reader’s mind.

When it comes to email, you’re looking for a direct and immediate response. As long as you’re not being downright rude in emails, toning down the necessity for information or asking forgiveness will hinder answers. Here are a few quick tips for stepping up your email game:

  • A subject line that can’t be denied. I put a meeting’s time in a subject line if it means I get the recipient to pay attention. I schedule meetings for our CEO and I can’t afford to be ignored.
  • Keep it short. Most emails don’t need to be longer than a few statements and one or two questions. The shorter the email, the more likely you are to get a quick response. With 66% of Gmail read on a phone, chances are your email will be skimmed on a small screen anyway.
  • Know when to apologize. You’re going to mess up and when you do, you’re damn right, you should say sorry. However, not responding to an email outside of your office hours or taking 20 minutes to get back to one is not grounds for an apology. Psychologically, it conditions your clients and partners to believe you’re always available. Instead, remind he or she of your hours and then get back to the point of the email.
  • Break. It. Up. Sometimes, in this world of fewer phone calls, the better, you are faced with a long form email. That is okay! Just remember how human brains work and break up the paragraphs and use bullet points. I’m not even a little bit shy to admit I discovered how well my boss responds to multiple questions better when presented as numerical lists. Honestly though, who doesn’t?

My position at Red Branch Media means that I am constantly writing email to clients and prospects. My emails aren’t the fully designed ones that are bounced around our office before they hit the recipient’s desk, so it can be quite a loaded task sometimes. While, I honestly no longer harbor fear of the send button, Leanse’s rule reminded me why I should never stop evaluating my everyday email game.