5 (Very Fixable) Reasons Your Email Isn't Getting the Answer You Wanted
There are few things more frustrating than spending hours writing (and deleting and re-writing) the perfect five-sentence email—and then not getting the response you expected. You thought your manager would be thrilled, but instead, she sounds, well, annoyed.
What happened? Did you send your message at the wrong time? Did you not make your request clear enough? Was your greeting too friendly? Did you give off the wrong vibe?
Surprisingly enough, the issue can come down to something much simpler: a couple of words. Words that are very likely in an email that you already sent today.
Recently, I wrote an article about words that give off the wrong impression in emails, and I was shocked at how many professionals (especially employers and hiring managers) tweeted me with more suggestions to add to that list.
What were some of the most common words they brought up? Read ’em and weep.
I admit it: I have an addiction to the word “also.” It’s gotten to the point where I have to do a special proofread over my emails to make sure I haven’t included it more than once in any given message. Using “also” too often can seem like you’re over-requesting, and if you’re at the receiving end of all of those action items, it can be overwhelming deciding what to tackle first.
Transition words are necessary for emails though, so what’s an email sender to do? A couple of my favorite alternatives include “in addition,” “furthermore,” “building on that,” and “on another note.”
Much like “hopefully” (which I talked about in the other article), this word adds a degree of uncertainty to what you’re saying when there doesn’t have to be.
For example, instead of sending an email saying, “I could probably get this done today by 5 PM,” be more concrete with your deadline. Take out “probably” altogether. Or, if you’re really not sure if you’ll be done by your deadline, give yourself a new deadline, or at least a little more flexibility. Even saying you’ll be done by “the end of today” or “by tomorrow when you arrive in the office” sounds much more straightforward than a “probably.” Worst case scenario: You overestimate the time needed and deliver the goods early. In the history of work, no one’s ever complained about that.
3. Try To or Trying
Yoda once said, “Do or do not, there is no try,” and he had a good point.
“Try to” or “trying” falls under the same territory as “probably” in that it doesn’t give any indication that you feel confident in what you’re doing. In fact, several employers who tweeted at me pointed out that when an employee uses either phrase, they just assume that he or she can’t do what was asked, period.
Do you really want your boss doubting you because of a single word? Let me answer that for you: No. Next time you find yourself using “try” in an email, take it out. If you’re truly unsure as to whether or not you can do it, ask yourself why—if it’s because you lack vital information or specific skills, reach out to the relevant parties and figure out what you need to gain or accomplish to turn your “try” into a “do.” If that’s not possible, your manager will want to know right away. As long as you explain why (example: “I don’t have clearance to access that shared drive”), he or she will understand and either help you remove the obstacle or just re-assign the task.
If there was any word competing with “literally” for most commonly misused term, “honestly” would be up there. People sprinkle it into emails all the time as filler, and after a while, the quest to show honesty starts to feel inauthentic—as if you’re letting someone in on a big secret, that isn’t at all a secret.
Honestly, cut it out.
People talk about qualifying phrases all the time (“I’m not sure if this is a good idea, but…”), but one that seems to pop up frequently is “I think…” I hadn’t really thought about this one until a hiring manager tweeted it at me, so I went through emails from my employees to see if it was true.
Sure enough, there it was. “I think we should move forward.” “I think we should sit down and talk about this.” “I think we’re getting close.” There were several emails where people used this phrase upwards of three times in one paragraph. And while I did notice both sexes using it, women tended to write “I think” much more frequently.
Next time you’re sending a message, just drop the “I think…” and share your views. After all, if the email is coming from you, whomever you’re sending it to will immediately attribute any thoughts in it to you!
They say that less is more, and I honestly think that probably trying to make your emails shorter is also the best way to go. See what I did there?
Photo of confused man courtesy of Shutterstock.
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 on Twitter.More from this Author