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Don’t Say These Five Things in Your Next Business Email to Someone Important

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By Fausto Mendez

    Encourage intelligent and useful responses in your next business email to someone important by avoiding phrases that miscommunicate your intentions or that make you look like a dumb robotic (thoughtless) employee.

    Business emails are a tricky thing; actually, navigating the social norms of non-business email can be rather weird too. Email culture carries a lot of influence from the good-ol’ snail mail days, and it’s also influenced by well-intentioned manners (or lack of) that can turn fairly standard conversations with important folks into awkward moments of miscommunication. With that in mind, you should probably avoid the following five phrases in your next business email - whether or not the recipient is “important” - in order to sound like a real and intelligent person that deserves a real and intelligent response.

    Of course, you may find that there really are situations in which the following five phrases should be used, but more often than not, they are overused without a second thought - thrown in because we don’t know what else to write.

Don’t Say, “I Hope You Are Well.”

    Please, don’t say this unless you really know the person and actively do things to show that you care because if you don’t actively care, the recipient will assume that you just want something from them. And that’s actually OK, but successful people tend to be very realistic. So if you’re trying to manipulate them, they will sense it right away. After all, they didn’t get to where they are by being naive to manipulation. They don’t like it, and they try to gravitate towards people that don’t try to manipulate them.

Don’t Say, “I Thought I Would Reach Out.”

    Obviously, you had that thought; otherwise, you wouldn’t have reached out. Important people don’t have time for thoughtless conversation. By limiting your email’s content to what is immediately relevant, you show the recipient that you understand how valuable their time is. Important people always value time over anything else, so if you throw in meaningless phrases like this, you are basically saying one of two things: 1. Your time is not valuable. or 2. I’m too stupid to understand how valuable your time is, so I don’t deserve a response.

Don’t Say, “Can I Pick Your Brain.”

    As I noted earlier, there are times when these overused phrases are certainly appropriate, and this is probably one that is harder to misuse. But the reason it’s often misused is not because it’s not relevant, not polite or utterly thoughtless. Actually, it’s misused because you asking for a very important person to spend their extremely expensive time and wisdom on you, not on anything else that he or she would like to get done today. If the recipient is not in a good mood, what seems like a compliment may actually be interpreted as an insult. 

Don’t Say, “Bounce an Idea Off You.”

    This is probably better than “can I pick your brain” because at least you’re going into it with the attitude that you’re going to contribute to the brainstorming that you’d like the recipient to do. It’s not just the recipeitn doing the work; however, it suffers from the same major problem. You probably misunderstand how much it costs for the recipient to do anything for anyone.

Don’t Say, “Sincerely Yours.”

    It’s really weird that we still say this. The phrase really belongs in a love letter, and even just “sincerely” doesn’t sound right. Of course, you are being sincere, so why would you need to say it? The fact is you don’t need to say it, and if you can come up with anything that’s more meaningful or relevant, you’ll probably stand out amongst the other tens, hundreds or thousands of emails that the recipient received today.

    Thanks to Fast Company for the original list of five phrases, but FC’s article didn’t suggest substitutions for these phrases. We offer the following suggestions.

What to Say Instead

    If you’re looking for some good substitutions when avoiding the above phrases, the best thing to do is to say something real. In other words, say something useful or relevant. I might also suggest being entertaining or funny, but that could cause more problems than it solves. If you are not familiar with the recipient’s sense of humor, you should probably avoid humor at all cost.

    More importantly, if you’re asking for something, such as to “bounce an idea off” the recipient, bring something valuable to the table that you can offer in return. I know this can be really hard in some situations, such as when a student reaches out to an experienced executive, but even the inexperienced have valuable info or stories to share. Everyone sees the world from a different perspective, and the important people that you’re trying to reach via email are surrounded by people - more like robots - that never have anything important to share. So you really make yourself stand out if you can offer something useful in return for the favor.

    No matter what happens, you should always thank the recipient for sharing their valuable time with you. That’s actually the signoff I use in most of my serious emails. Later on, I may choose a less serious signoff, such as “may the force be with you”, but I certainly make sure the recipient knows that I know their time is extremely valuable. While the above five phrases can be easily misinterpreted in many situations, thanking someone for their time is always a safe bet.


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