How effective are your emails? Are your messages short, direct, purposeful and authoritative? Or do you introduce the subject slowly, gently and use self-deprecating language so as not to come across too strong? It might be a case of your language being too, well, female.
Much has been written about the differences in male and female communication traits. According to John Gray’s seminal 1990s blockbuster Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, including various spin-offs such as How To Get What You Want In The Workplace, there are 6 clear differences in how men and women employ language:
Men Don’t put yourself down; it weakens your power to lead.
Women Don’t build yourself up above others; it creates division.
Men Always take credit for what you do and let it be known.
Women Always give credit to those who have helped you.
Men Always have an answer and never reveal the feeling of uncertainty.
Women Don’t assume you have the best answer. Include others in problem solving.
Men Using the least number of words to make a point demonstrates competence.
Women Sharing details develops rapport and strengthens work relationships.
Men Do what’s most urgent or important; it’s OK to overlook the little things.
Women Everything matters; remembering the little things demonstrates caring.
Men Only ask for help if you need it. You are respected by what you do on your own.
Women Giving and receiving helps generate a sense of connection and team spirit
In the traditionally male dominated world of commerce and industry, it is easy to see how a typically female approach might be seen as less authoritative. Take the following examples:
Many apologies for taking so long to get back to you. I think I may have some ideas to feed into the marketing direction the company might like to consider taking. It’s just a thought at this point, but it could be worth exploring in a meeting. What do you think?
I’m just writing to check in on what we discussed at our last meeting. Sorry we haven’t had a chance to catch up. I think that we’d actually be a pretty good business partner for your company. Not that I’m an expert, but it could be a great opportunity all round. Am I making any sense?
If you recognise yourself in these email mannerisms and would like to ‘man up’ your messages, help is at hand. Just Not Sorry is a Chrome extension for Gmail that has been developed especially to help women write stronger, more impactful emails at work. It works like a spellchecker, with the plug-in flagging up words that undermine your messages and may lose you professional respect.
As each disempowering word or phrase is identified, there’s added information and explanation about how using the phrase might hold you back in your job. Here are 3 of the main culprits you should stop using at all costs:
‘Using sorry frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership’.
Apologising over email is not only a very British thing to do, it’s also particularly common among women. Saying sorry sets up a negative tone right from the outset, which immediately puts you at a disadvantage. Why apologise when you’ve done nothing wrong?
I’m no expert
‘I’m no expert undermines your idea and displays an overall lack of self-confidence.’
Whether you lead in with ‘I heard that’, ‘I suppose’, ‘I guess that’, ‘Not sure about this but…’ and countless similar phrases, your sending the message that you don’t know your stuff. Instead of demonstrating that your ideas and decisions are based on facts, it sounds like you’re going by hearsay, intuition or pure speculation. That’s not a professional approach.
‘Just demeans what you have to say. Just shrinks your power. It’s time to say goodbye to the ‘justs’.’
There are many words and phrases that have a weakening effect on your message or may even put its entire validity into question, including ‘just’, ‘actually’ and ‘if that makes sense’. Using this type of language in emails suggests a lack of confidence in your own thoughts and ideas and diminishes your worth. They’re certainly not the leadership qualities you want to portray.