Editor Laurie Prescott's got something to say, and she may or may not choose to apologise while saying it...
‘How women undermine themselves with words’, ‘Six things working women should NEVER write in emails’, ‘Should you email like a man?' A quick google search produces anxiety-inducing numbers of articles with guidance on how women should email. If we stop inserting a "sorry" here and a "please" there, colleagues will be compelled to bow down at our feet, and next week we will all be CEO. Apparently.
But what if, stay with me here, the thing holding us back isn’t our choice of softening words or kisses at the end of emails – but a system that has long rewarded harsher language and perceives a more polite style as inherently weaker?
The discussion around women and their experiences in the workplace has never been louder and it's no secret that there’s still plenty to be done. It diminishes that reality to put women's struggles down to one too many smiley faces in an email. Instead, might this be just another way of policing women’s behaviour? Has anyone suggested that men don’t say sorry enough yet?
The importance of language, and the insertion of pleasantries is much more complex than just softening. These qualifiers often act to communicate politeness. Speaking on a completely personal (and therefore scientifically factual) basis, I know that I’m much more likely to respond positively to a polite request than one that seems pushy or blunt.
It’s easy for tone of voice to be lost in digital comms, so being able to pick up on friendliness makes these faceless interactions more pleasant for everyone. To me, an email free of ‘would you mind’ and ‘please’ comes across as borderline hostile, and certainly won’t make me feel inclined to go above and beyond to help the sender. Politeness is an effective tool that can enable progression too and it doesn’t have to mean anyone’s power is diminished. Instead, ‘could you’ acts as a way of smoothing the conversation and putting the recipient at ease.
So, rather than scanning my emails to see if I’m being too passive, from now on I’m emboldened in my politeness. Soft, friendly language (with a slight Brummy lilt) is how I speak when I meet people face-to-face, so why would I use any other style in emails?