Never use these phrases in an email

01 August 2020 Myra Knoesen

One word can ruin an entire email and one email can ruin a relationship, says Sara Grillo, a Financial Author, Podcast Host and Keynote Speaker.

“As communication becomes more digitised, it is important to have the right tone anytime you are sending an electronic message,” emphasizes Grillo.

Here are eight phrases, Grillo shares, that will stop prospects from wanting to do business with you.

Gems of rudeness

  1. Disappointed

“Whenever an email has the word “disappointed” in it, I know the person is about to say something insulting. This word is used punitively from childhood. I say this to my kids. ‘Mommy was very disappointed when you chose to hit your little brother over the head with that chair’, says Grillo.

“I just got a shaming email the other day with this word in it. ‘Sara, I was terribly disappointed to read your article about corny life insurance sales tactics’. Apparently, you can use this with adults, too,” she says.

“Disappointed is supposed to be a nice way of expressing discontentment, but in reality you’re implying that the other person did something wrong. It’s too emotional a word to use in business because it puts people on the defensive,” emphasizes Grillo.

  1. Don’t understand

Whenever someone uses this phrase, Grillo says it’s a red flag that they are frustrated. This causes tensions to mount in difficult situations. Refrain from using it as well as any of its derivatives:

  • I am not sure I understand.
  • There is/was a misunderstanding.
  • Cannot understand this at all.
  • IDK – This is the worst because it’s as if you are screaming, I DON’T KNOW at the person. Obnoxious.
  • I have no clue
  • The phantom question mark – This is where someone emails you and you respond back with just “?” or if you’re really irritated “??”
  • What do you mean?

“A nicer way of saying this is, ‘Forgive me, but for some reason the part that I am failing to grasp is this …. Would it be too much to ask you to please clarify this point?’ This is way less inflammatory because you’re putting it on yourself rather than them,” explains Grillo.

  1. Thanks for the outreach

“I’ve heard this phrase used two times and in both instances, it was just so sarcastic I wanted to literally punch the computer screen,” says Grillo.

“When used in business, the word ‘outreach’ has a sarcastic connotation that it makes the person who communicated seem ridiculous for attempting to connect with you. It brings images to mind of the American Red Cross coming to rescue a flood victim. Or some ‘team building’ ropes course exercise in the woods during some non-profit company retreat thing where we all have to wear t-shirts with a company’s logo because they sponsored the event in order to compel all of us to buy their latest product. That’s outreach for you,” continues Grillo.

  1. Apparently

“Apparently is a slightly condescending word that, like #3, conveys a sense of being misunderstood. It does carry a heavy blaming potential, so be careful when you use it to describe situations where people could feel as if you are pointing the finger at them,” she added.

  1. Refrain

“Refrain is a formal way of expressing a command at your job. Because we can’t say things like, ‘Get your feet off the coffee table, you knucklehead’ in the business world, we use the word ‘refrain’. I recently used this word when I had to email my kid’s preschool teacher. ‘Please tell Mrs. Sanchez to refrain from braiding my daughter’s hair with the communal classroom hairbrush’. Translation: ‘Stop doing this before my kid gets head lice. Never ever let that happen ever again’. Use this only if you need to because your initial attempts at communicating your request have not been properly accommodated,” says Grillo.

  1. It’s great that

“This phrase is often the lead in for a patronising statement. ‘It’s great that you’ve got your MBA, but at our firm we use a proprietary model for our earnings valuations’. Good for you that you got a gold star on your chart for brushing your teeth all by yourself today,” highlights Grillo.

  1. I’m afraid we

“This is used commonly by HR personnel who have to tell someone they didn’t get the job. Remember getting those rejection emails? ‘I’m afraid we had more qualified applicants’. You’re not really afraid, are you? You just want to drop the bad news on the person, so they get out of your face about whatever they wanted that you won’t give them. It’s glib and everyone knows it,” continues Grillo.

  1. Unfortunately

“The king of all rude phrases. ‘Unfortunately, we didn’t receive the statements you faxed over to us yesterday’. The thing that bothers me about unfortunately is that it never expresses a sincere sentiment. It’s just calling attention to the fact that the person you’re communicating with has somehow become victimized or is about to suffer. The phrase should be ‘I’m sorry, but…’, says Grillo.

When to intentionally use rude phrases

“Now I’m going to say something that no business person on the face of the Earth will ever say. Rudeness, when applied carefully, does serve an important purpose in business,” she says.

“If being ultra-polite was the only thing it took to be successful, then why do some of the world’s top businesspeople consistently behave in brash and unpleasant ways? Because when the going gets tough they know how to play hardball with the person on the other side of the email exchange. Don’t get me wrong – don’t be hotheaded. Temper eventually catches up to you. Successful people dispassionately know how to let someone know when they’re being a pain in the neck or jerking them around. Sometimes it comes off as rude. I’ll give you an example of how I use this phrase,” says Grillo.

“Unfortunately, as of today the balance of R2500 is now overdue. As my attempts to discuss a payment plan have not been responded to by you, please be advised that starting tomorrow, late fees will be accruing at the following rate as stated in the agreement.”

“What I’m saying here is that the word ‘unfortunately’ is a unilateral way to inflict pain on another party. Use it carefully and only if you are comfortable with the risk of offending the other person. A delinquent and nonresponsive payer is a perfect example of someone who should get an email with this word in it – because they need to be spoken to this way to know that you mean business,” says Grillo.

How you handle sensitive situations

“If you’re going to be intentionally rude, just make sure your rudeness is legitimately justified. Did the person really stand you up and blow off that meeting or did your admin get the invite mixed up? Confirm the facts so that you don’t wind up having to apologize for being rude,” she continues.

How you handle sensitive situations is what people remember about you. In a business where reputation is everything, your digital communication has to carry the correct tone,” concludes Grillo.


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