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How Successful People Communicate: 4 Phrases to Sound Like a Pro, According to a Harvard Expert

The professional receives an average of 121 emails per day. Clearly, when it comes to communicating with bosses and colleagues, word choice and tone matter a lot.

Authenticity in language can help strengthen connections and mutual respect. Using words and phrases that seem insincere, despite your best intentions, can not only cause your email to go unanswered, but also present a missed opportunity to build a positive relationship.

Rebecca Zucker, executive coach and founding partner of Next Step Partners, a leadership development firm, who is also a columnist for the Harvard Business Review and has worked with companies like Amazon, Clorox, DocuSign, and Dropbox, came up with four annoying phrases that can make you seem aggressive, false and unprofessional to people.

  1. “I’m not sure if you saw my last email…”

According to an Adobe Consumer Email survey, 25% of respondents cited this phrase as the most annoying phrase people use in work emails.

Keeping track of unanswered emails can be tricky. While the other person may have lost your email (ie spammed or buried), more often than not they have seen it. However, it’s possible that they really forgot about it, or that it was such a low priority that they completely ignored it.

It’s okay to say you’re following. “But keep your email short and include a clear question that allows the recipient to save face. It may sound like “Can I introduce this client?” or “Do you have any comments on this ad copy? If I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’ll assume everything looks good,” says the expert.

  1. “According to our conversation”

This phrase (and similarly, “as discussed”) sounds overly formal and borders on the litigious. Unless you’re documenting something for legal purposes, avoid using this phrase. He comes across as stern, cold, distant, and inauthentic. “Instead, you could say: I’m attaching the article I mentioned during our call…” or “It was great talking to you earlier. Here is the job description for the open position on my team in case you know of someone.”

  1. “I hope this email finds you well…”

This is an oddly roundabout way of saying “I hope you’re doing well,” which, depending on the relationship, can be sincere. It is best used with someone with whom you have an established relationship and with whom you have not been in contact recently. You are much less honest with people you just met or don’t know at all.
“I once received an email from an acquaintance I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. It was the end of 2020 and the world had been turned upside down due to COVID. It would be inauthentic not to acknowledge the anxiety and fear we were all dealing with. She opened her message with, “I hope you and your family are doing well during this absolutely crazy time.”

  1. “Gladly,…” (or any automatically generated closing salutation)

While intended to save the sender time, most auto-generated closing salutations (“Sincerely,” “Best,” “Kind regards,” “Thank you very much,” “Warmest wishes,” “Sincerely”) generally make your email sounds impersonal.

Your approval must match both your relationship with the recipient and the nature of your email. For example, you wouldn’t use “Warmly” if you were asking the finance team about the status of your payment. You also wouldn’t use “Thank you” if you’re giving your colleagues an update. What are you thankful for?
Customize the closing greeting based on the context of the message. It will only take a second or two. Of course, if you’re making a request, it’s fine to sign out with “Thank you.” But if you’re sending an update to a colleague, choose something that reflects the conversation, like “Talk soon” or “See you at the meeting tomorrow!”

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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