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3 common words that make you sound rude in emails

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/29/2015

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In one week, I've dramatically improved my professional communication skills.

Yes, I know, that's a big claim — but it's true. And the best part is that the changes I made were simple.

I cut three words from my vocabulary: "actually," "sorry," and "me."

1. Actually

My inspiration for getting rid of "actually" was Carolyn Kopprasch, Chief Happiness Officer at Buffer, who wrote a great blog post on the word.

Turns out that when I use "actually," it's usually because I'm correcting someone. The proof is in a recent email I sent to my editor.

Erin: That wording felt a little misleading, so I changed it.

Me: Actually, I pulled that sentence from the [company] website!

It's not an awful response, but a better one would've been:

Thanks for your feedback! I used that sentence because I found it on their site.

The second communicates the same info while sounding more respectful and friendly.

"Actually" alternatives: Definitely, got it, I see, great point, makes sense, understandable

2. Sorry

I try to stay away from saying "sorry" in situations that don't merit it: when I make a tiny mistake, when I state my opinion, or when someone points out something I missed.

However, now I'm not even using "sorry" during those times I've truly messed up. Instead, I'm saying, "I apologize."

Because "sorry" is so overused, it tends to feel flippant and non-genuine. "I apologize," on the other hand, is said rarely enough that it still carries a lot of weight. When I use it, people know what I'm saying is heartfelt.

Last week, I blanked on an important meeting. When my boss asked what happened, I didn't say, "Sorry, I forgot!" I said, "I apologize — it totally slipped my mind. From now on, I'll check my Google Calendar as soon as I get to my desk in the morning so that doesn't happen again."

Note: I didn't just apologize, but I laid out my plan for avoiding making the same mistake again in the future. It goes a lot further than just, "Sorry, it won't happen again."

"Sorry" alternatives: You're right, I apologize, Going forward I will…, I understand why you're upset

3. Me

It's not just the word "me" I wanted to avoid. It was everything "me" represents — being internally focused, rather than concentrating on how I can help the people I interact with every day.

Here's an email I was going to send, before I realized it had the off-limits word:

Hi Sean,

When you have a moment, could you please send me the info on next Wednesday's campaign launch? I want to double-check a couple details before it goes live.

Thanks,

Aja

Here's the re-written version:

Hi Sean,

When you have a moment, could you please send over next Wednesday's campaign info? Double-checking a couple details before it goes live to make sure the client is happy!

Thanks,

Aja

While editing this message, I got rid of "I" as well. Reducing my use of "me" words forces me to focus on how what I'm doing is benefiting our mission and company as a whole, which ultimately makes my communication more effective (and the person receiving it more receptive).

"Me/myself/I" alternatives: You, us, we, the team, our company, our department

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