Have you noticed that as you move up the corporate ladder, that there’s a common pattern to how many executives and leaders write emails? They respond to emails quickly, with one or two lines, often without so much as a hello or a sign off of their own name. Proper grammar is often optional. Sometimes they don’t even use the body of the email, and drop their entire message in the subject line. It’s as if typical email etiquette goes out the window in favour of text message rules.
This style of to-the-point, direct emailing can dramatically cut down on the time you spend thinking about email. Instead of poring over a carefully worded email that’s Shakespearean in its perfection, get your message out there and move on. We’ll admit this style of email is probably not appropriate for every situation; sometimes you just need to provide a more nuanced response (and leaders know that too). But ditching all the flourishes and niceties of email etiquette is appropriate more often than you think. Here are some ways you can email a little more like an executive.
Leaders often respond to emails quickly. It’s not unusual to receive a response within minutes of sending it. Instead of spending their valuable time sorting and flagging messages to respond to later (meaning they need to touch each email multiple times) they respond to it immediately and clear it off their plate.
eliminate ‘soft’ language
Soft language cushions messages, making them seem less demanding. No one wants to be that difficult coworker who is always asking for things, never offering anything in return. Soft language makes us feel better about asking for things or expressing opinions. This is especially true for women who often feel they must be ‘likable’ to be respected at work. Phrases like ‘I think’, ‘maybe’, or ‘just’, are peppered into work emails to soften them so you sound less bossy and more like the affable, fun coworker you know you are. Leaders say what they mean, without feeling like they need to dilute their message. For example, instead of prefacing your ideas with ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ – state your opinion outright. Example: instead of ‘I think we should increase the budget,’ try ‘We should increase the budget.’ It’s a minor difference but it sounds more powerful.
use emojis sparingly
Emojis have their time and place. If you’re really, truly, excited or happy about something, sure, throw that happy face emoji in there! However, the problem with emojis is they’ve become another crutch we rely on when we want to soften a message, and they get overused to the point of being meaningless. Much like soft language, they make a message feel ‘nicer’ without really changing anything about the content. But they can also kill your credibility and authority if overused. If you can’t write an email without the urge to throw an emoji or two in there to communicate ‘hey, I’m actually nice, I promise!’, it’s time to take a hard look at your emoji addiction.
stop apologizing for everything
It’s become habit for us to apologize for even the smallest slights, even things that are out of our control such as scheduling conflicts. Sorry it took so long to reply. Sorry, I need to move the meeting. Sorry, that timeline isn’t realistic. How very Canadian of us. Instead of immediately jumping to ‘sorry,’ try leading with the solution. For example, if you run into a scheduling conflict, try: ‘That time won’t work for me. How about 10:00?’ Leaders tend to be solutions-oriented and focused on fixing problems. If you absolutely feel like some sort of consolation is necessary, flip it around into a positive: ‘thanks for being so patient’ is a way nicer way to say ‘sorry it took so long.’
stop analyzing every word you write
Leaders tend to say what they want to say without carefully selecting each and every word of an email and rewriting it multiple times. They get their point across ASAP, and use simple, direct language that’s unlikely to be misunderstood. They don’t spend a lot of time carefully choosing and rearranging email content. If you’re taking more than a few minutes to write an email, there’s a good chance that: a) you’re overthinking it or b) the content might be too complex to communicate over email and a phone call is in order.
do you really need that exclamation point?
Exclamations are yet another crutch we use to soften emails. Somehow ‘let’s do it.’ sounds foreboding and insincere, but ‘let’s do it!’ sounds eager and genuine. How has punctuation become so loaded? While there’s nothing wrong with a well-placed exclamation mark, don’t feel like you have to use one on every sentence in your work emails to avoid sounding like a monster. (Again, this is a loaded issue for women. Studies have shown women are liked more when they use more exclamation points in work emails, while men tend to be liked less.) At the end of the day, say what you want to say in a way that feels genuine to you. One exception is using a bunch of exclamation points in a row – use this extremely sparingly, if at all. Ending every email with ‘thanks!!!!!!!’ can come across as juvenile or silly. Overexcited teenager is probably not the professional brand you’re aiming for.
focus on one thing at a time
You might think it’s easier to group messages together and save up little requests to pack into one big email. It sounds like a good idea at first thought… instead of reading several short messages, everything is available in one place. However, this can backfire. When you ask for many things all at once, it’s more likely that something will be missed overlooked, or the person you’re messaging won’t respond until they’ve completed everything on your list. Short to-the-point emails (as leaders tend to favour) typically cover a single subject and have one main point or call-to-action (a.k.a. thing you want the person to take action on). When you highlight a single point or task, it’s less likely to be missed or forgotten. You’re also more likely to get a quick response in return. However, you can run into a problem with sending a flurry of emails to one person in quick succession as well. So be mindful of who you’re emailing and how often.
know when a phone call is appropriate
Sometimes email just isn’t the right medium for the message you want to convey. Email is great for quick communication, but it can over-complicate some matters. If writing an email is long, complicated or taking more than a few minutes, or will require several back and forth communications for the recipient to get your point, it’s probably better to opt for the phone or an in-person interaction instead.