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Email Etiquette: Eliminating ‘Girl Speak’ at Work

Email Etiquette: Eliminating ‘Girl Speak’ at Work

Its tempting to fluff up emails with niceties. Guilty of this myself, I delve into email etiquette and how to eliminate girl speak from the workplace inbox.

Women historically have struggled to be taken seriously in the workplace, from the bygone eras of differing equality to today’s fights for fair wages and as good a chance of promotion and leadership as their male counterparts. However, women within the office culture could be damaging their cause by using an unprofessional tone in their daily emails. Here, I delve into the problems of ‘girl speak’ and look at how to develop a less colloquial tone.

1. Women in Power

Women can find it difficult to adopt a tone that expresses authority without seemingly appearing bossy, curt or pushy. Research has shown that authoritative women are considered less favourable than men, which may seem rather archaic in a society that tries to promote gender equality. This means that many women choose to adopt a softer tone via their work emails in order to dispel thoughts of bossiness whilst still making a stern request.

Typically, this tone is communicated through ‘text speak’ which is colloquial at best and embarrassingly informal at worst. Ending sentences with numerous exclamation marks or using phrases like ‘OMG’ and ‘LOL’ may appear jokey and conversational but, more often than not, can breed misunderstanding and undermine women who are trying to be taken seriously as equal colleagues.

2. Setting the Tone

The first step women can take in cultivating a professional veneer through their emails is adopting a tonality that can be used across the board. Choose a tone that is both neutral and polite and keep at it; it may take time to establish such a tone but consistency speaks volumes.

Create an opening and sign-off combination that can be used in any email correspondence with co-workers and make sure it stays the same, it can be relatively informal as long as it is spelled correctly and is not overly conversational – a good example could be ‘Hello’ to begin and ‘Kind Regards’ to finish.

3. All About Punctuation

One of the biggest offenders in colloquial email etiquette language is the overuse of punctuation and introduction of smilies or emoticons. Women must be aware of when this ceases to be cute and friendly and actually becomes unprofessional. For instance, a woman requesting a piece of work by a deadline could say something like:

Hi Dave!!

How’s it going? Are you able to locate the file on the Matthews case and have notes on my desk by 4pm??

Thaaaanks!!!!!!!!!

Not only does the overuse of exclamation and question marks create the tone of a personal message or text, but also it connotes a sense of informality, which detracts from the urgency of the request. In an effort to appear friendly and accommodating, a woman’s authority can actually be lessened. Another way to write the same email would be:

Hello Dave,

I hope this email finds you well.

Please can you locate the file on the Matthews case and submit the notes to me by 4:00pm? Do let me know if you have any problems at all with this.

Thank you and kind regards.

This email contains the same details as the previous, yet has a far more professional tone. The tone is accommodating whilst pertaining to a serious request and a deadline, with a friendly invitation to communicate should there be any problems.

4. Good with Grammar

We may be living in an equal society but there are still issues concerning the representation of gender in the workplace. It may seem secondary to a woman’s personality and worth ethic, but language used in email correspondence can say a great deal, and not all of it good.

Using the right grammar is imperative if one is to be considered an intelligent and significant part of a team. Beginning sentences with lower case letters, not correcting spelling mistakes and including emoticons may be part of everyday correspondence outside work, however these things must be abolished from emails in work. Often, emoticons and cutesy language is used by women to communicate the friendliness and emotion they perhaps feel is needed to accentuate how what they are writing should be read. While this is often saved for platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the line can sometimes become blurred at work.

The two below emails employ totally different tones, which communicate the same message:

hey

im having a meeting about the new account at 5

can u come a few mins early to go ova files?

cheers

Alternatively:

Hi Anna,

I’ve called a meeting about the new account, it’s starting at 5:00pm but would you mind coming a few minutes early to go over the files?

Thanks, see you later!

The first email may seem exaggerated but this kind of language is so often used for texting in our personal lives that it can sometimes unknowingly filter into work-related communication.

By contrast, the second email used all the correct grammar and spelling whilst still employing a largely colloquial tone. In spite of this, the message is communicated clearly and the request is stern yet friendly, using just a single exclamation mark to denote a perky positivity, or remove the exclamation point and finish with ‘Regards’ to add a more formal tone.

5. Know Your Audience

The final and possibly most important aspect of crafting a professional email tone is to know your audience. Starting a new job offers the opportunity to feel out the way others communicate and start to mirror the language of your co-workers. A safe way to introduce oneself into work-based correspondence is to start with a largely professional tone and observe how colleagues and managers speak with each other.

Utilising just a few of these aspects into work-based correspondence can help to communicate not just the task at hand but also a sense of authority and ownership of a position. This willingness to maintain professionalism, in spite of any gender bias, can help solidify equality between the sexes whilst still encapsulating one’s personality.

About the author

Charlotte Waller

Charlotte Waller has worked in all facets of digital since 2009, moving to self-employment – and founding Visebility in 2011. Career passions are data, and data driven results; nothing feels better than fulfilling a client’s online goals. Outside of digital her biggest achievement to date is completing seven marathons on seven continents – including one in the interior of the Antarctic 600 miles from the South Pole all of which she ran with her Dad…needless to say that’s a lot of running and neither has run since.

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