July 17, 2021
Have you ever felt pressure to use an emoji, an exclamation point, or throw in a few extra words to soften a message to a colleague or boss? If you’re not male, we’re going to guess that you’ve probably felt this pressure; thus landing us admittedly in the same boat. Welcome! *Cry-laughs*
A lot of communication is done via email and Slack these days. Especially right now, as working from home rates have seen a rather high climb in the struggle of many offices veering away from workplace work due to Covid-19.
In the daily correspondence between co-workers of all genders, how do you own your place in the workplace through your abundance of daily written communication? In other words, how do you use all of those emails and Slack messages to your advantage? Back up: are you actually hindering that authority through your current language? Let’s take a look.
Several studies have found that women use more exclamation points in their digital communications than men. What effect do those exclamation points have on their presence in the workplace?
We chatted with Azra Virani, People & Culture Leader at one of Canada’s largest media companies who explored these gender-based expectations of written communication in the workplace with us, and their effects on how we’re perceived by our colleagues and bosses. “Women feel as though they have to promote empathy through email”, she explains. The effect of trying to push that empathy too hard? A risk of coming across as unprofessional, too casual and not owning your message, Azra warns.
With Azra’s HR expertise, we compiled some etiquette to watch out for–and catch yourself on, to strengthen your voice and assert yourself professionally in your workplace. Below, we unpack the big ones:
First of all, what are you saying this for?! When you apologize for something, you’re essentially declaring your accountability for it. Women often try to show their empathy by throwing in a ‘sorry’, but it doesn’t always translate to that for the recipient. Do you have something to be sorry for? If not, leave it out. It’s not your fault.
As women, we tend to feel like we have to start email replies with ‘thank you’. It’s actually not as common for men to do that. This is one communication trend that lends itself to a culture of women feeling like they have to soften up their emails. Oftentimes we believe it’s too harsh to be straight forward from the get-go; we fear coming across ‘like a bitch’. To this, we suggest: reflect on why you’re thanking your email subject. Did they actually do something that merits a thank you? Or are you simply thanking them for reading your email? If the latter, a thank you isn't required.
This explicitly illustrates the culture of making your email softer, and more supportive. After all, it’s 2020, and we all do it in text. Don’t we?
The verdict: Nix the smiley face all together. In a professional setting it comes across as juvenile. Save that smiley face for the next text to your BFF instead.
It’s so common (and comfortable) to end emails with one of these phrases, for fear of coming across too strong without. Before you end your email with one of the above, ask yourself: Is this a collaborative process, or are you providing a direction?
If your answer is direction, then own it.
The queen of the slight sentence softener. It’s small, but it’s mighty (and you don’t need it one bit). This word can come across as either defensive, or apologetic. Nix it completely.
Now that we’ve sprawled these communication habits on the table for all to see, it’s important to note that we rarely see men implementing them in their written communication. There’s a difference between being professional and polite–and conforming to what we think we’re expected to communicate like, as women.
According BBC, women use an average of 20,000 words a day, compared to the mere 7,000 that men utter. While we’re throwing in those extra words to soften emails, men are often much faster at responding to emails. Not worth it.
Aside from your time being impacted, using softer wording in the workplace can also lead to being seen by superiors as less authoritative, or as lacking confidence. This in turn possibly leading to missed opportunities. Also, not worth it.
Meet Tami Reiss: she invented the Gmail plugin “Just Not Sorry” in 2015. The plug-in functions similarly to a spell-checker, but for qualifying or softening words and phrases, like “just," “I think,” and “so sorry,”. The reason for her invention? Reiss was fed up with inadvertently using language she felt undermined her ideas.
So now you know what to watch for in that next email you shoot to your co-worker Monday morning, right? We simply ask: challenge yourself. Use the list above to catch and correct yourself when you use this language without intention. You don’t have to nix all pleasantries; a little ‘chat soon’, or ‘sincerely’ is quite alright. But a few little tweaks could also lead to some badass moves in the workspace–remote or not.