By Lily Herman
Lily is a writer, editor, and social media manager, as well as co-founder of The Prospect, the world’s largest student-run college access organization. In addition to her writing with The Muse, she also serves as an editor at HelloFlo and Her Campus. Recently, she was named one of Glamour’s Top 10 College Women for her work helping underserved youth get into college. You can follow Lily onTwitter.
Email etiquette is tricky. How do you know if you’re being annoying? Did that last exclamation mark make you go from sounding enthusiastic to sounding unhinged? Is your message redundant? Is it even being opened if you send it after 5 PM?
But, before you spend time debating whether to include an emoticon or researching the best and worst times of day to send a message, know that there’s something else that could be totally undermining your email: Your words. (Dun, dun, dun.)
Here are five words that make you sound less confident and more unsure of yourself than you even realize. So, do yourself a favor and drop ’em.
Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, co-founders of Food52, once commented that adding “just” to your emails makes you seem less confident. After taking a look at previous emails I’ve sent, I really have to agree.
Saying things like, “Just checking in” or “Just wanted to ask a question” minimizes your request. You aren’t just checking in; you’re an important person who deserves to know what’s up! Drop the extra word, and check in like a boss.
“Hopefully” is another word that I didn’t realize could greatly hinder an email’s effectiveness until someone explicitly pointed it out to me. “You shouldn’t have to be hopeful for anything,” a mentor once told me. “People just need to get things done.”
Think of it this way: If you’re telling someone that you’ll hopefully get something done by the deadline or that hopefully things will work out, you’re subconsciously showing that you don’t have control over a situation. Or worse, that you’re unreliable.
“Actually” is slowly becoming the new “literally” or “basically” in emails, with people throwing it in where it doesn’t stylistically make sense. I didn’t realize how problematic this was until I received an email from a publicist who used the word three times in a five-sentence email (one of which was that hated phrase “but actually”), and all three times were totally unnecessary! Needless to say, I actuallyhave no idea what she was trying to promote because I got so distracted.
4. Kind Of
This one is pretty straightforward: Using “kind of” (or “sort of”) in an email comes across as vague or ambiguous, like you’re not totally committing or have no idea what’s going on. And if that is indeed the case? Clarify the situation before you even start the email.
When I asked several professional contacts and colleagues which word they find to be the most unnecessary in emails, almost all of them pointed to “sorry,” explaining that 99% of the time, no apology is necessary. (Think, “Sorry, I can’t do Monday—does Tuesday work?”) And honestly, if you really did do something wrong, you should pick up the phone and say sorry like you mean it.
You may not be able to nail every piece of email etiquette (there are so many supposed “rules”!), but by getting rid of a few unnecessary words, you’ll immediately make your messages sound more polished, straightforward, and confident. That’s all you can really ask for, right?