If you reply to a deadline extension with the same "OMG Thank you!!!!" you'd use when your BFF offers to pick up wine for your upcoming dinner date, it may be time to reconsider your email strategy.
While "girl speak" can become excessive even among friends, it has serious limits in professional communication. Where the boundaries are, however, isn't always clear.
The reason why women often seem to favor a "softer" communication style is clear: research shows that authoritative women are viewed less favorably than men, an extra "thank you" or "sorry" in an email may buffer against accusations that a woman is "shrill" or "pushy." Justine Harmon lamented the "Fe-mail" dilemma last month on Elle.com: "When we craft e-mails, we want to make sure there is no confusing our sentiment, hence the inclination to overemphasize banal points or include a sprinkling of exclamation marks when requesting services -- a clear indication of pert thankfulness rather than brusque authority," she wrote.
Is all that stands between a "competent" and "brusque" woman a forgone exclamation point? Probably not. But women can employ a few communication tweaks without dumbing themselves down or sounding like a robot.
While email expectations vary by field and workplace environment, here are 10 rules of email etiquette every woman should consider:
1. Chill out with punctuation. Propping up an otherwise lackluster or disappointing email with four exclamation points to soften the blow or excuse the inconvenience usually doesn't actually accomplish either. Plus, genuine celebration is served perfectly fine by one exclamation point. And remember to use your words -- "Really appreciate your thoughtful attention to this" is more professional and sincere than "Thank you so much!!!!!!!"
2. Set your tone. Choose a tone for work emails, preferably a neutral one, and stick with it across the board. If you come out of the gate with excessive enthusiasm, anything less will appear cold.
3. Be consistent. Establishing your tone can take time, but implementing a standard greeting-and-sign-off combo is a good start. You know those dudes who end every email with "Cheers"? Roll your eyes at those would-be anglophiles, but they may be on to something. There will still be occasions that call for a more specific salutation, but if you choose a method and stick with it, your colleagues are less likely to wonder what you meant by "Best" when last time you said "Warm regards."
4. Read the room (or the Inbox). In a new position, it's always best to start correspondence conservatively and then follow your boss' lead. Better to be the more formal participant in an email chain than the first to throw out an ill-timed "LOL!" Regardless of the style you've come to expect from direct teammates, always check for who may be cc'ed on internal memos, and adjust your tone accordingly.
5. Say "thank you" once. Why do we insist on thanking co-workers when notifying them of a favor we've done or plan to do for them? "You didn't do this in a timely manner so I'm just going to handle it. Thanks!" Excessive gratitude can backfire when the recipient starts to believe they deserve it. When requesting time off or requiring additional attention from someone you know is busy, give in to the impulse to thank -- just be specific. If you are sending your manager a list of projects you've finished, thank them for their attention. If you're letting a co-worker know you've jumped in on a project they're managing, thank them for being flexible.
6. Ban unnecessary apologies. If you offer an apology where it's not necessarily due, you create the impression that an error was made. As HuffPost editor Ani Vrabel wrote in a March blog post "There's a subtle -- and yet, very important -- difference between acknowledging being involved in inconveniencing someone and taking the blame for it." The difference is slight, but influences how your colleagues may perceive you. "...off-hand apologies may have implied that I was polite, friendly and respectful, but they also indicated a host of other attributes, including that I was meek and felt inadequate," Vrabel writes, "I could be a polite and effective communicator without apologizing for things I had every right to be doing."
7. But don't stop at "sorry." That being said, you will mess up at work. When you do, You should state precisely what you're sorry for without appearing to make excuses. To the extent possible, identify at what point the mistake could have been avoided, convey this recognition in your apology, and acknowledge how you will avoid it next time. "I'm sorry I didn't confirm X more thoroughly. I'll remember to take X step moving forward." When you imbue an apology with a sense of purpose, the event goes from a haphazard blunder to a teachable moment.
8. Include details in the subject line. No one will see it as short or cold if you're succinct in your subject line, and if you get straight to the point with "Question about your instructions for X" you relieve yourself of the need to include overly-complicated body text. You also cover your bases should something fall through the cracks down the line. If your manager didn't open and read an email with the subject line "Specific question about specific project on specific date," that's on them. If he or she glanced over a note with a subject line "Quick Q," that's on you.
9. Don't friendzone your colleagues. You may work in an environment where internal communication is very casual, and "Here are my notes on your assignment" exists on the same email thread as "Still on for drinks at 7?" But remember, internal correspondence may be the only reference your colleagues have for your communication style. It's fine to indulge in a little workplace banter, but for the most part, keep it professional so your manager won't question your ability to communicate appropriately with those outside the company.
10. Install "Undo." It doesn't matter how long you've labored over an unsent email or how perfect it seems in its final moments as a draft; within five seconds sending it, you will be unsure of it. If you work with Gmail and haven't installed the "Undo" add-on, which allows you to cancel "Send" for up to 10 seconds, you must do it now. It prevents minor disasters and provides major peace of mind. Decide against that last exclamation point a second too late? Realize you said "thank You" twice? Accidentally hit Reply All? Can't actually see an error but have a bad feeling? Just hit "Undo."
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