Are women inclined to be more apologetic and less definitive in the workplace than men? Is a woman’s language and writing style more likely to be unassuming, uncertain – and possibly even self-deprecating?
As part of the Bravo campaign, Procurious will be hearing from a number of high profile procurement leaders on the topics of diversity, equality and women in procurement.
I’m a staunch feminist. Career driven, financially independent and proudly vocal about gender equality.
But I am also a copywriter and corporate trainer – a profession that forces me to scrutinise the way people write in the workplace every day. And although I routinely come across all types of business professionals who write poorly, I recently wondered: do women have specific bad writing habits of their very own?
So I did some quick research, and within a few minutes my hunch was confirmed.
According to Leadership Coach and Strategist Ellen Petry Leanse, women are three to four times more likely to use the word ‘just’ in their emails and conversations at work.
‘I am just wondering if you are available to discuss…’
‘Just following up on that report…’
‘I’m just writing to let you know that…’
So what’s wrong with ‘just’?
As Leanse explains, it’s a permission word. An apology for interrupting. Or a shy knock on a door before asking a question we have every right to ask.
Why do women feel the need to undermine the importance of their requests before even making them? I suspect we’re scared of being labelled overbearing, controlling – or god-forbid bossy. And so we overcompensate.
But here’s the more important question: What’s the consequence for women who use this weak, hesitant language at work? My hypothesis? Slower, fewer and less substantive responses to our requests… and ultimately, lower levels of respect from colleagues and clients.
(And trust me, women don’t need extra help when it comes to subtle sexism and gender inequality in the workplace.)
However, using the word ‘just’ is not the only writing crime females are more likely to commit than males. Here are some more email writing habits that could compromise your credibility at work.
Overuse of qualifiers
Words such as ‘might’, ‘probably’, ‘maybe’, ‘somewhat’ and ‘possibly’ weaken your message and reveal a lack of confidence in what you’re saying.
If you don’t believe what you’re writing, why should your reader?
Before: You might want to reconsider our financial targets as I think they are probably a little too low.
After: I recommend we increase our financial targets.
Unnecessary apologising and over-justification
Although apologies are appropriate on certain occasions, think twice next time you want to use the word ‘sorry’.
Do you really have something to be sorry for? Or are you simply asking a colleague to perform a task that falls comfortably within their job description?
Before: I am sorry for the inconvenience as I know you are very busy, but can you please pop by my workstation when you are next available as my computer seems to be quite slow today.
After: My computer is very slow today. Can you please come to my workstation today to have a look?
And be careful not to apologise for something that’s outside your control – or for not fulfilling an unrealistic request:
Before: I am so sorry but I wasn’t able to meet your deadline. I had too many other commitments and I need to get up really early in the morning. I tried my best but just couldn’t manage it. I hope you understand.
After: As suspected, I wasn’t able to meet your deadline. I will call you tomorrow morning to discuss next steps.
Asking superfluous questions. Seeking permission.
Questions such as ‘is that okay with you?’ and ‘am I making sense?’ show a lack of confidence in your own opinions, suggestions and accomplishments.
If you need to ask whether or not you’re making sense, then you either already know your email is confusing – or you are revealing that you’re unsure of yourself and your ability to communicate effectively.
Before: ‘Would you like to see a summary of my research? You may find it quite surprising.’
After: ‘Here is a summary of my research. It contains many surprising findings, including…’
Overly polite and waffly
What’s wrong with being polite?, I hear you say.
Nothing. But many of us take it too far, which can dilute the core message we’re trying to communicate.
Before: I hope you are well and that you had a really great weekend. I am just writing about our catch up next Friday and was wondering if we could possibly reschedule to the following week? Is that okay with you?
After: I have a conflict next Friday and need to reschedule our meeting. Does the following week suit you?
So, c’mon, ladies. Let’s stop undermining ourselves. It’s time to ditch these words and phrases from our emails and earn ourselves the respect in the workplace we know we deserve.
Vikki Maver is a specialist web content writer, marketing copywriter and writing skills trainer. This article first appeared on her website, refreshmarketing.com.au.
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