I am a classic over-thinker. Just now, as I write this, I’m looking back at nearly every word I’ve typed and will likely re-read the post a good eight or ten times before I click “publish.” Maybe it’s because of my communication background, but I tend to overanalyze each word I write. Never is this more obvious and daunting as in an email. Women tend to be more self-deprecating in these messages, concerned we’ll sound arrogant, bossy, or impolite.

If you’re like me, you’ve spend entire mornings composing a single email to your boss or another higher-up, making sure each word gives the impression you hope to convey. You click “send” and a reply arrives. The response? “Ok.” Suddenly, you begin to wonder, “did my email bother him/her?” “Did I say something wrong?” “Do they appreciate the time and effort I put in to make sure my email was nice and not bossy?” The answer to all of these questions is probably “no,” but a closer look at why we choose the words we write might not be a bad idea.


Have you ever seen the Pantene “Not Sorry” commercial? I’d wager most, if not all, of us recognize ourselves in it in one way or another. Have a question? Ask it. Someone’s here to see your boss? Tap on the door and let him/her know. Notice a hole in an argument or presentation? If you see something, say something. Let’s reserve our apologies for when we indeed have something for which we need to apologize; not just for taking up space in the line for coffee.


For centuries, women haven’t had the same opportunities to speak our minds without fear of backlash. Our solution was to soften our language with words like, “just,” “maybe,” “actually,” and the ever-popular, “does that make sense?”. While our intent might be to prevent offending someone, it may also come across as insecure about what we’re saying. If you tend to fluff your emails with these words or phrases, type your email as you normally would, identify these qualifiers and delete them.


Becoming more assertive in email may require a serious paradigm shift for many of us. It took us a long time to get here, and it could take a long time to turn it around. These small pivots don’t all have to take place overnight! Start with one change and get that one down. I recently started with the word “just,” and it feels empowering to truly follow up with someone rather than “just follow up.”

It’s also important to note that because we’re working to eliminate self-sabotaging words and phrases, we don’t have to completely sanitize our writing. Hang onto your warm greetings, sense of humor and positive encouragement. Your personality is a big reason you’ve been able to get things done to this point. You should still sound like you, just electronic.

Learn more about communicating more effectively by visiting herehere, and here.


Blog post by:

Mary Straton Smith

Director of The Source