Let’s take them one by one.
“Friendly reminder” If you have to say “this is a friendly reminder,” that’s a sure sign that your language isn’t friendly enough. Instead, work on making the language you use throughout the message more friendly so that you don’t have to falsely claim that you’re being friendly.
Here’s an example:
Instead of, “Just a friendly reminder that you haven’t paid your bill :-)”
try something like this: “Thank you for paying your September invoice. I haven’t received the October payment and just wanted to make sure you did receive the invoice.”
Ask yourself, “if I were receiving this email, would I find it friendly?” It’s only friendly if the answer to that question is “yes.” It’s not friendly just because you say it is or just because you add a smily emoticon.
“Quick question” I read that and I automatically think something long and complicated and nearly impossible to describe in an email is coming. If you have to ask something that cannot be answered in ten words or less, then you’re not asking a “quick question.”
And, more importantly, if you know that you want an answer that is longer than “yes” or “no,” then you are definitely not asking a quick question. So don’t claim that you are!
Think before you type and if the kind of answer you want would have to exceed ten words, then send an email to ask for a meeting or a phone call. At the very least, call it what it really is: a long, confusing, complicated, difficult-to-answer-over-email question!
“IMPORTANT” (especially in the subject line) is problematic because the issue contained in such emails is inevitably important for the sender, but not so much for the recipient. When you send something to someone and it’s labeled “IMPORTANT”–think about the person receiving it and make sure it’s something that would be important to that person. This means a multimillion dollar deal is about to go belly up, a child has fallen ill, a war is about to start and the person you’re emailing is somehow able to stop it. In other words, your email is almost never “IMPORTANT!” to the person you’re writing to.
For all three of these expressions, imagining yourself in the role of the recipient is essential.
And this is the connection to your job search and career. There’s too much “I, I, I” and “me, me, me” and “my, my, my” in most job search materials and interview answers. It’s about them–the company, the job, the interviewers and what you can do to meet their needs. And if you start thinking like that as you’re drafting everyday emails, it will become automatic to think from the perspective of the recipient. Once you’re doing that, you’ll be able to ace job search documents and interviews because you’ll already know how to think from the recipients’ perspective and present them with exactly what they need.
Developing writing skills based on these three phrases to avoid can be the first step in helping you in all areas of professional communication–emails, but also resumes, cover letters, letters of recommendation, personal statements, speeches or toasts. For example, as you work, ask yourself, “How do I tell this long story in just two sentences?” “How can I make this negative thing sound friendly, yet be clear about it?” “How can I integrate these keywords from the job ad into my cover letter?”
You have step back and find different approaches to solve the problem of not being friendly, or not being able to articulate a quick question, or not being able to communicate in a form other than writing.
Start doing it in little ways today and you’ll be doing it in big ways before you know it!
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. For help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org