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Delete The Fluff: Sexism in Emails & Professional Communication

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SJSU chapter.

Hello there! So sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if we could possibly reschedule our call if it is not too much trouble?

We’ve all been here at some point, sitting at our desks, anxiously hovering our thumbs over the keyboard while contemplating how to write a simple email to a colleague. It could have been sent in three minutes but took nearly thirty. We couldn’t help but overthink every other word choice, indentation and whether or not four exclamation points is too much. (In my humble opinion, it’s not. We should use more of them!)

In a perfect world, everyone, regardless of gender identity, would write emails like this — polite and considerate with exclamation marks galore!

But this isn’t our reality.

In an article for Dive Deeper Development, Michelle Pratt analyzes the differences between female and male linguistic tendencies. Pratt uses Professor Deborah Tannen’s studies and research to explain why women often opt for more accommodating language than men. Essentially, women are conditioned to speak more amenably and passively by our male-dominated society, which translates into our communication styles in the workplace.

To add a small caveat, while the issue is not necessarily that women are too accommodating, but rather the rest of the world is not accommodating enough. However, it is still exhausting and unreasonable to expect women to dilute themselves down, so repeat after me.

Send. That. Email.

Just do it! As clearly and concisely as possible, just send that email.

However, it is easier said than done, so here are a few tips to improve your communication and reduce some email-induced stress:

1. Refrain from using qualifiers, especially the ones that dilute meaning.

Words like “somewhat,” “slightly,” and “possibly” are considered “fluff” words and can undermine what you are trying to communicate, so go back and delete the extra fluff.

2. Don’t apologize when you don’t have to.

Unless you’ve really done something wrong, there’s no need to apologize or say “sorry to bother you” for asking questions or setting expectations in your email. Remember that there are also other alternatives to saying sorry and still getting your point across.

3. Avoid diminishing yourself.

Don’t downplay your capabilities, knowledge, or skills just to appear more approachable. Phrases like “I’m not certain about this, but…” when you are certain about something can minimize your role and value on a team, so own what you know!

4. Be direct.

Instead of throwing in unnecessary qualifiers, use more action verbs on their own and set

expectations clearly. This will help your emails appear less clunky, as well as make them more impactful.

5. Let go of that fear of being perceived as a bitch.

We were all conditioned to believe that overly accommodating communication is the only way our voices will be heard, but that’s unacceptable! Reject that notion, be confident in your words, and send that email!

It’s an unconscious habit many women have: To apologize before asking a question, to apologize because they are standing at the milk and sugar station at the café while someone else is waiting for their turn, to apologize in all kinds of situations where an apology is not warranted! We apologize simply for taking up space.” –Tara Mohr for Goop Magazine

If you incorporate any of these tips in your next emails, let us know on Instagram @HerCampusSJSU!


Lover of poetry, lashes, and all things matcha. Communications & Legal Studies at San José State University.
Attending San Jose State University and majoring in marketing. I am a nature child who believes that traveling the world, meeting new people, eating good food, and embracing other cultures is a vital part of life. I enjoy painting, hammocking, and exploring Pinterest whenever I get the chance. Find me on Instagram @camytotah