It’s much easier to sound like a jerk in an email than in person. Sorry, but it’s the truth.
Think about it: we’ve all received messages that make us cringe—or even need to shake off to get on with our day—from perfectly nice and professional people. While we may know that they didn’t mean to sound abrupt or discourteous, their message still taints your next encounter (or even the entire working relationship). It can be even worse for the colleagues and customers with whom we communicate predominantly via email; safe behind their laptop, they say things they would never say in person or over the phone.
While we can’t control what others write, we can work hard to write our email in a way that is perceived the way we intend. Below, you’ll find a few surefire ways to sound like a jerk. Avoiding these is the first step to writing great emails: messages that will build your reputation as a courteous, thoughtful and capable professional.
10 Ways to Sound like a Jerk:
- Write in ALL CAPS. It’s just unnecessary. While you’re intention may be sarcastic or funny, it can easily come across as angry or rude.
- Write one-word responses, such as “Thanks” or “OK.” Again, the tone can be easily misconstrued and the person receiving the message may find it short or curt. You don’t need to write a full message—not even an entire paragraph—but make sure to write at least one full sentence. The sentence “Thanks for your work!” doesn’t take much more effort to write, but it’s tone is much more positive and doesn’t fall flat.
- Saying or implying something is obvious. When you do this you show others that you assume that your perspective is the only one. It’s just plain condescending, so avoid the words “obvious,” or “obviously” at all costs.
- Flooding someone’s inbox with small messages. Try to combine your ideas into one cohesive message. For example, write separate paragraphs or lists with bold headings separating the different topics. There are exceptions, like when you need to create separate email threads for different projects. Yet, it’s always more courteous to send as few messages as possible.
- Labeling issues or tasks as “urgent” too often. There’s no easier way to annoy or anger your colleagues than by pushing them into panic mode when it’s not truly necessary. At times you may want to express your concern, but never imply that there’s an emergency or a looming disaster (unless there is, which hopefully isn’t the case!).
- Using explanation points or questions marks excessively!!!! Don’t rely on punctuation to get your point across. To many readers, more than a one explanation or question marks in a row comes across as childish or unprofessional. Other readers may misinterpret your excitement or concern.
- Dismissing questions or issues without explanation. When you write “That’s not a problem now,” you may think you’re being helpful. The reader may easily interpret this as dismissive of their thoughts, ideas or concerns. Simply explain why a specific question or issue is being tabled; it only takes one or two sentences.
- Diving right into an issue. While some readers appreciate getting straight to the point in your emails, others see it as curt. Simply begin the message with some sort of salutation (such as, “Hi John”) or preface the issue briefly (“Thanks for bringing this to my attention.”).
- Writing when angry. Without a clear head, your tone will be offensive. Take a breath and sketch out a plan for your message. Once you’ve written the message, take a quick break before you press send.
- Criticizing or rebuking someone’s actions or work via email. Just don’t. If you’re a manager or supervisor, pick up the phone or talk to them in person.
In the end, the best way to not sound like a jerk is to simply put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself how they wil receive or perceive your message before you send it out.