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Email Language: Power Words Only

September 19, 2017

“Don’t fake it ‘til you make it. Fake it ‘til you become it…Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes.” Social psychologist Amy Cuddy said this during her 2012 TED Talk on how your body language can actually alter other people’s perceptions of you. Essentially, her research shows that positive body language can lead to positive life outcomes. It’s called ‘power posing’, and her TED Talk on this concept has been viewed over 42 million times and translated into 51 different languages.


Body language is one thing, but what about actual language? If we can apply the idea of power posing to the words we use, and not just to our posture, what kind of positive life outcomes can we experience?


Let’s start with the form of communication that dominates the workplace–email. Concise, confident communication with our peers can have a positive impact on our work relationships and, ultimately, our career. But many of us, especially women, are hesitant to use strong language in our emails for fear that our message will be misinterpreted as rude or blunt.


“Hi there! I’m just checking in to see if you received my last message. When you get a chance, would you mind providing your feedback? I feel that we could make great strides on this initiative if you’re open to collaborating! Thank you so much for your time!”


Does this email come across as strong or confident? Most likely, it does not. The words “just” and “would you mind” are included to be polite. The phrase “I feel that” and the unnatural exclamation points are added with the intent of softening the message. Yet they end up weakening the sender’s voice and stripping them of any perceived confidence or credibility.


“It hit me that there was something about the word I didn’t like. It was a ‘permission’ word, in a way — a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking ‘Can I get something I need from you?’” - former Google and Apple Executive Ellen Petry Leanse on why women who always say “just” subordinate themselves.


A lot of go-to email fillers have this same effect. Punctuating a request or explanation with “does that make sense?” is the easiest way to fall into the trap of discrediting yourself, according to Harvard Business Review. The site posted an article on commonly used expressions in presentations that cast doubt and uncertainty on both the speaker and the audience, explaining how meaningless words diminish the power behind our message and sabotage our efforts to effectively communicate.


I discussed this concept with a coworker a few weeks back and decided to put the theory to the test in my own day-to-day communications. I started by writing an email as I normally would, using the language with which I’ve crafted business emails for years. After I finished the note, I looked back and scanned it for meaningless words and phrases. What I found was rather surprising.


My emails were full of weak, apologetic language.


I work hard to carry myself with poise and confidence at work. At the same time, I am very aware of other people’s emotions and how my words can affect those emotions. This is a good quality in some situations, but this mentality was also working against me. I was spending so much time reading and re-wording emails to make sure that I didn’t offend anyone that I lost my purposeful, powerful language.


Since then, I’ve adjusted my email verbiage to include phrases like “I’m confident that” instead of “I feel that”. I state my point exactly as I would say it out loud and avoid using unnecessary exclamation points. I rarely use the word “just” in my emails anymore.


By making a conscious effort to replace the fluff with meaningful language, we put ourselves in control of our message and how others perceive it. Our words control our actions, and our actions dictate our outcomes–in the office, at home, and in life.

Be confident, and say what you need to say. Period.




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