"Sorry to bother you!" But This is How to Write Better Emails

“Hey! Super sorry to bother you, I was just wondering if you would be okay with….”

You know how the rest goes. Nobody ever teaches you how to send emails, but somehow we all write the same things. Why is that? It’s because we as womxn have adapted to write in a way that we hope will be perceived as “nice” or “polite."

The problem is, being nice does not have to mean writing in a way that undermines your ideas before you even get the chance to share them. Tropes about womxn painting themselves as reactionary have forced us to be subconsciously vigilant about our perception, especially through writing, because it’s easy for our tones to be misinterpreted.

That being said, why can a man disagree with something and it’s seen as a “good point,” but when a womxn does the same thing it's abrasive? Below is a short list of phrases you need to unlearn from your email vocabulary (and some you should add) to make sure you are getting your points heard. 

  1. 1. "Just"

    When you say “just,” you are trying to minimize your actions, which not only makes you come across as less serious, but can be interpreted as you having something to apologize for. If you are “just checking in" on someone's progress, you have nothing to be sorry for. Check in and own it!

    Tip: Cut out the word "just." It can be tough to catch because it’s a filler like...well, “like,” but your emails will feel significantly more direct and confident with this quick change.

  2. 2. "Let me know what you think!"

    This one comes across as a need for validation from the other party. If they have criticism or commentary then you can expect them to share that with you without explicitly asking for it. Usually we add this phrase to make an email seem nicer, but you have every right to unapologetically share your ideas without creating a contingency on another person’s approval. 

    Tip: Share your idea and maybe say you look forward to discussing it further, but otherwise this is another phrase to completely leave out if you can.

  3. 3. "Sorry to bother you"

    Stop! Apologizing! You have probably already heard ibefore that we as a culture overuse the word sorry, but this phrase here is a deadly combination that we are almost all guilty of using. Chances are that if you're emailing someone, you have every right to be conversing with them, whether it be a professor, a boss or a peer. So for starters you aren’t bothering anyone, you are engaging in a discussion.

    As difficult as it may be in a society that expects us womxn to feel sorry for merely existing, we need to stop expressing that in emails because it opens the door for other parties to speak over us and not give our valuable opinions as much attention as they deserve.

    Tip: A great piece of advice I've heard for cutting out apologies is turning them into thanks whenever you can. Instead of “sorry to bother you,” try saying, “Thank you for taking a look at my essay.” Thanking someone carries more value and allows you to come across as respectful without weakening their perception of you. 

  4. 4. "Do you know what I mean?"

    If they don’t know what you mean then they can follow up with you. When you ask someone if they know what you mean, you are stating that your idea is inherently hard to understand or poorly phrased at some fault of your own.

    The truth is, it is likely that you are perfectly eloquent and do not need to prepare for the chance that someone doesn’t understand. Like the statements above, this one just creates an expectation in the reader's mind that what you have to say is less valuable.

    Tip: Wait until someone expresses that they need clarification, and then address it at that point by offering to follow up with them. 

  5. 5. "!!!" ":)" "I'd love to!"

    Laptop and Phone

    If I were to take a guess I’d say that we are all the most guilty of this one. In the age of “hey girly!” speak, adding these to our texts, emails, and Instagram comments is the norm.

    That being said, you do not have to bring it into your professional conversations. These phrases are used to compensate for the fact that women who are stern are perceived as demanding, emotional, or my least favorite “b!tchy."

    In a world where congressmen are calling Alexandria Ocasio Cortez “the B-word” on the stairs of Congress, it’s understandable that womxn may feel intimidated by the way we are perceived by men. However, it is extremely important that we harness our inner AOC and stop adapting our language to make men feel comfortable. 

    Try: Limit your exclamation points. If you see more of them than periods on a page you’re probably overdoing it. Remove modifiers like “love/happy/glad” to make statements like “I will follow up with her." There’s nothing to feel guilty about when you make a statement without adding an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm to it.

    As for smiley faces, keep them for the gram or candid interactions with friends. 

  6. 6. Learn to say "no"

    Look, I’m not saying you should start turning down opportunities left and right. But it can be really easy to overcommit yourself as a womxn because you may feel like you need to work harder than a man for the same level of recognition, or because you’re scared to say no. Learn the difference between an opportunity and being taken advantage of when taking on additional tasks for school or work.

    Tip: You don’t have to explain yourself for saying no. If you are compromising your mental health, your time with friends/family or other commitments by taking on an additional task, that is a perfectly valid reason to say no.

  7. 7. Get comfortable with disagreeing

    We have all been there in class sharing commentary when a dude abruptly stops you in the middle of your sentence to begin speaking his mind, consequently telling everyone how little your opinion is valued by him. It’s why we write the way that we do!

    Tip: To combat this behavior, we need to start feeling comfortable with disagreeing. It can be exhausting taking on the responsibility for resolving problems created by the patriarchy, but gaining the confidence to respectfully disagree with someone else will allow you to set the tone for your expectations in future engagements.

  8. 8. You can say, "That made me uncomfortable"

    This one may come across as obvious, but it is one of the most important phrases to feel confident utilizing, especially in professional settings. You do not owe men (or anyone) the comfort of making inappropriate comments or jokes about your appearance, another womxn's body or sensitive topics such as the wage gap.

    This goes for any marginalized group, too. If your reaction to someone’s disrespectful commentary makes them uncomfortable, you have done nothing wrong.

    Tip: While telling a person that you don’t approve of what they said is easy advice to give, approach the situation and handle it in the safest way possible, whether that be refraining from laughter, confronting the individual or removing yourself from the situation entirely.

While it might be nerve-wracking to send someone a direct email, think of it as your own little act of civil disobedience against the unspoken rules of the patriarchy. By making small changes to the way you speak, you establish your confidence, boundaries and expectations, which can enact great change within your professional circles.