Writing Emails In Your Voice: Trust Me, You Won’t Be Sorry
I just wanted to say thanks for reading this blog. I mean, I’m no expert, but I think that how we phrase things in emails is really important. Sorry if it’s blunt, but sometimes our phrasing can diminish the substance of what we’re trying to communicate. Does that make sense?
Did you hate that opening paragraph as much as I hated writing it?
Power in Communication
Being a completely remote business, emails are a big part of our communication. When you remove the face-to-face conversations, you really need to step up your email game. The words that you choose can break a relationship, ruin a strategy, and waste time. But they can also build trust, friendships, and respect. I have clients that I’ve known for years who I’d consider close friends, but we’ve never actually met in person. There’s a lot of power in the way you communicate, so it feels like a no-brainer to pay close attention to the way you say things.
It wasn’t until the other day when I was composing a tough email that I found myself really questioning my language. For the more difficult emails, I always say them out loud before hitting send so I can get a feel for how they’ll come across. As I read this particular email draft, I realised I had said the word “just” about 6 times, “actually” twice, and to cap it off, said “sorry” for no reason.
Ugh. That’s not me.
I’m a confident person, and yet there was nothing confident about this email. Why was I apologising for existing and making requests that were totally reasonable? I own a business and I’m awesome, dammit!
“Woman In A Meeting” Language
We can all accidentally or unintentionally undermine ourselves, but the reality is that it happens more for women in the workplace. This article from the Washington Post takes famous quotes and puts them in the language a woman would use if she were in a meeting. One of my personal favourites is a spoof of the famous “I came. I saw. I conquered”, or as a woman in a meeting might say;
“I don’t want to toot my own horn here at all but I definitely have been to those places and was just honoured to be a part of it as our team did such a wonderful job of conquering them.”
This “Woman in a Meeting” language, as dubbed in the article, was so ingrained in me that I hadn’t even noticed it. And the more formal or important a situation was, the more I found myself leaning on it.
For me, I fall into this bizarre “Woman in a Meeting” language because I’m trying to fit in. Times where I’ve been passionate about something, I’ve been called “emotional” or even “hysterical”. Some days where I’ve felt sad, depressed, or frustrated and I’ve expressed those feelings at work, I’ve been told to “put a lid on it” or “go do that in private” – basically the corporate equivalent of “you’d be prettier if you smiled more”. So eventually I learned that if I had something important to say, I had better say it in a way that would be received and heard. And unfortunately, that’s “Woman in a Meeting” language.
Just Not Sorry
I recently installed a Chrome extension called Just Not Sorry, and it has helped A LOT. The app highlights words and phrases that undermine your voice, like:
- “I think”
- “Does this make sense?”
Since using the extension, I’ve realised that I use these words and phrases far more often than I originally thought. It’s an excellent tool that’s made me more mindful of my language. I was a huge fan.
That was until I started drafting this email;
“I appreciate your understanding. I always want to be honest with you, especially when I feel that communication might be starting to break down.”
Squiggly lines appeared under “to be honest” and “I feel”, and I started second-guessing myself. Should I rephrase this? Maybe “I feel” just isn’t strong enough. I re-worded the email several times but I had that same feeling I had before;
Ugh. That’s not me.
Yes, as a woman I do lean on language that undermines what I’m trying to say, and it’s bad. BUT, my strengths are my emotional intelligence – my ability to connect with people and be genuine. Overly professional environments make me uncomfortable. I like saying “Cheers” instead of “Kind regards”. And sometimes, when I say “I feel”, it’s because I actually feel something. And I shouldn’t be hiding feelings or apologising for them.
I don’t want to undermine what I’m saying, but being my genuine self isn’t undermining my content. Being in touch with those things I used to hide at work – my emotions, my concerns, my frustrations – are the things that make me win at business. I shouldn’t have to translate my words to fit into a culture that doesn’t cater to, or respect, those parts about me.
So my tip for you is this. Download the Just Not Sorry Chrome extension and look for the squiggly lines. But ask yourself if you’re apologising for your own existence, or if you really are sorry. Ask yourself if “you feel” because you can’t come right out and say it, or if you really do feel something. When you’re “just emailing to say”, read it out loud, does that sound like you?
Be the wonderful person that you are, embrace the whole of yourself at work, even the messy parts that wouldn’t fit in traditional office environments. Write emails in your voice. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.
Written by Gemma Renton