That’s the total number of emails I received just in May, and it’s about my average. That’s not counting the hundreds and hundreds of messages Gmail dumped into categories for promotional mail, forum posts, and social networking updates. I’ve become proficient at jumping through messages quickly (using the J and K keys), but there’s one thing I’ve mastered even more than that: spotting a lack of confidence.
I also take quite a few cold calls—people who are not really sure what I do and have not really done too much research but have me on a phone list for some reason.
In most cases, it’s a pitch about a product or someone asking a question about marketing to journalists. They might say they “usually” do something. In a few cases, it’s someone with a business idea they “suspect” will be perfect. Most of the time, these messages are straightforward—the sender isn’t messing around. But a few seem hesitant. I fire back a question, and the response makes me question their authority on the subject.
These words are not always triggers about confidence level, but they are my first signal that something is amiss. They make me think the sender is not that sure about the product or service. And, they are dead giveaways that I need to question what they say.
Be careful when you tell people you “might” do something. Are you sure about that? No one is asking you to solve world peace. When you say you “might” finish a report, it implies you lack some ability, don’t manage your time well, or have too many priorities.
Here’s an obvious word to avoid in your emails. Anyone who says they “won’t” do something or they “won’t” attend a meeting is generating a negative vibe. Be more decisive: Either accept an invitation or reject it; using the word “won’t” suggests hesitancy.
This is a trigger word in email that make it obvious to everyone that you don’t have all of the facts. If you say the accounting department “usually” doesn’t approve your expense report or the boss is “usually” late to work, it means you’re stretching the truth.
Unless you are talking about a suspect in a trial, avoid saying you “suspect” anything. You’re not Sherlock Holmes. Just use direct terms: You know an investor is pulling out of the project and here’s why, or you have facts to support your conclusion on a new marketing plan.
I bet Mark Zuckerberg never used the word “impossible” in an email. The recipient will lose confidence in you quickly. State why something might be hard or difficult, or just don’t agree to a course of action. Don’t bother telling people it’s impossible.
We all worry about the stresses of life. Telling people you are worried by email makes it seem like you lack confidence in your abilities. If you are worried, don’t bother saying that to anyone—just express what you are concerned about and offer solutions.
Expressing your confusion will create even more confusion. It’s better to just say what you are confused about and ask questions. Saying you are “confused” gives people the impression that either you don’t understand something or that the topic is confusing to you.
We all have needs in life. When you express those needs by email over and over again, it makes you look needy. I need you to come to work early, I need you to get that report done. Avoid saying need, and express requirements more directly.
Have you sent a message and said you were in a “quandary” before? You should know that the word means you are in a total state of perplexity. I mean, you are really perplexed. That’s not often the case when it comes to a new business proposal or fundraising round.
Few of us are in the business of predicting the future. If you say something is “likely” in an email, you are expressing to the recipient that you are not really sure about the topic and you don’t have all of the facts yet. It’s likely that you just lack confidence.
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