Considering it’s one of the first things you open in the morning, likely the last thing you scroll through before bed, and a common source of anxiety for many professionals — email is one of those necessary evils nearly every person must endure. Because most workers multi-task throughout the day, it’s easy to fire off a reply without giving much thought to what you’re typing – and more importantly, what message it’s sending about your sense of self and authority. Too often, female professionals will apologize, ask for forgiveness, scoot around facts or even fear speaking their opinion via their inbox.
This can be dangerous territory, especially since email responses can be forwarded to higher-ups and executives who review your work performance. That’s why it’s savvy to give yourself the “feminist edit” before hitting send. As founder and creative director of SMAKK Studios Katie Klencheski explains, the best female leaders practice confidence and vulnerability without undercutting themselves. “It’s important to weigh the validity and value of your statements,” she says. “If you’re the woman who is confident in how she speaks, owns it when she has questions, and speaks up when she has solutions, you’re letting people know you’re someone who values clarity, wants to fully understand things, and gets things done.”
Here, a stronger way to phrase your email responses to demand respect within the workforce — both on and offline.
The common response: “I’m so sorry!”
The edit: “Thank you…”
Amanda Swoverland, chief risk officer for Sunrise Banks, says too many times within the 9-5 life, women will say “I’m sorry,” when they have done absolutely nothing that warrants an apology. It’s one of those verbal reflexes you probably don’t even realize you’re doing — but a quick search of those two little words in your inbox will likely surprise you. She suggests changing email responses with “I’m sorry” to “thank you” to exude self-worth. “If it’s related to something being late, say, ‘Thank you for your patience. You will see this on Friday.’ Or, if you’re caught off guard and blame is placed on your team, say, ‘Thank you for pointing that out. Is there anything else I should know?’”
The common response: “I’m not sure.”
The edit: A solution.
Instead of remaining silent because you’re afraid you do not know the answer, Klencheski urges women to speak up and reply with confidence. While most men are unafraid of being wrong, women don’t want to be perceived as less, so they’ll often dart around the solution even if they know they are prepared and educated. If you do not have an answer, respond by saying that you will investigate the matter more and get back with a solution by a certain date and time.
The common response: “I’m the worst!”
The edit: “I made a mistake…”
Spoiler alert: You’re going to make mistakes in your career. You’re going to miss targets. You’re going to drop the ball. You won’t have all of the answers. However, the more ownership you can take of these experiences without devaluing yourself, the better perceived you’ll be in the office. This lesson was taught to Klencheski by her young niece, Lucy. “After she does anything wrong, Lucy will throw her arms in the air and say, ‘I did it,’ no matter if it’s spilling a gallon of juice on the carpet or throwing her stuffed animals into a pool,” Klencheski explains. This is now a habit her office has adapted when facing a pitfall. “It’s pretty empowering to screw up and immediately forgive yourself – because you’re literally not the worst,” she adds.
The common response: “But this person…”
The edit: A recap of what happened
Everyone finds themselves in tricky situations via email, especially when there has been a missed deadline, a miscommunication, error made or combination of all the above. When this happens, it’s tempting to shift blame on someone else instead of acknowledging what conspired. Klencheski’s best advice is to tackle the information head-on, sharing everything you know without diminishing another person. She gives this example for forming unaccusing email responses: “The building management said it would be okay if we did a flash mob in the lobby. I was proactive in clearing it with them. Besides, our Instagram following has increased 200 percent since we posted the live video. Can we use the rest of our meeting time to discuss some other engagement strategies I’ve put together?”
The common response: “I know it’s unprofessional but…”
The edit: “I need to…”
So you need to leave early to pick up your child or come in late for a reason you’d rather not discuss? Everyone is entitled to a personal life outside of the office. And with appropriate notice and communication, there’s no reason for you to apologize for having an appointment for yourself, a family emergency or even a pet to care for. “You’re not being unprofessional by sticking to a schedule, and you certainly don’t need to share the intimate details of your life to justify having one,” Klencheski assures. When it’s time for you to head out, simply say that. She gives this example: “I won’t be available for that after 6 p.m. today. Here are some times tomorrow that could work. Alternately, feel free to email that info and I’ll take a look first thing in the morning.”