Often what you see is not what you get, and that's definitely true for what you get in emails. What seems polite is actually not. What seems friendly is actually not. What seems easy rarely is.

The next time you see one of these phrases in an email, consider what the sender might really mean.

1. "Let me see what I can do."

Instead of just saying no, lots of people use "Let me see what I can do" as a way to let you down gently.

A better approach is to say, for example, "Let me check with Bob and see what he says." Or, "Let me see if I can shift that meeting to another day." Or, "Let me call the warehouse and see if we can move the shift date up." 

Offering a potential solution is sincere. Saying "Let me see what I can do" sounds like you're preparing the other person for eventual disappointment. 

2. "With all due respect ..."

 Even though Ricky Bobby feels differently, "with all due respect" is insincere. Prefacing a statement politely doesn't soften the actual message.

Just like the old saying, "Everything before 'but' is BS," everything after "with all due respect" is what people really want to say.

They just hope you won't be upset when they say it.

3. "I know you're really busy ..."

If you sense a "but" coming, you're right.

Besides, acknowledging a situation and then choosing to ignore that situation is a terrible way to start. Plus, most people think they're busy, even if, in relative terms, they're not.

So just get to the point and let the recipient decide whether he or she is too busy.

4. "Just circling back ..."

Maybe because you didn't respond the first time soembody emailed--but why will you respond this time, especially when the rest of the email is just copied and pasted from the original email?

In the same vein, this doesn't work either:

5. "In case you missed this ..."

Maybe you did miss it.

Or maybe you weren't interested.

Occasionally a recipient may have missed the original email. But as a sender, you should understand the person you're targeting. If it's someone who gets dozens of unsolicited emails a day, like, say, Tim Ferriss, then his lack of response doesn't mean he missed it. He didn't respond because he gets too many emails to respond to each one individually. If he's interested, he'll respond.

And just in case Tim really did miss it, find a more creative way to send another email. "In case you missed this" only ensures that even if he does see your second email, he's not going to read it.

And that's also true for:

6. "Just wanted to follow up ..."

Occasionally a follow-up is warranted. If I said I would do something and haven't, by all means follow up. It's embarrassing to admit, but I sometimes do forget. 

But if you're just "following up" or "popping this to the top of your inbox," find a more creative opening line. Look at what you wrote in the first email. In all likelihood it was benefit-driven: For you. 

Want people to respond? Find a way to benefit them.

7. "I may be wrong ..."

Maybe -- but the sender rarely thinks so. And sometimes the sender uses "I may be wrong" to highlight just how right he or she really is.

8. "I hope this finds you well."

I get this one at least five times a day. While I appreciate the sentiment, I immediately think two things. I first wonder when Victorian greetings came back into vogue. But more important, "I hope this finds you well" really means, "We don't know each other."

And while every new friendship has to start somewhere, "I hope this finds you well" is unlikely to be the place.

That's also true for:

9. "Thought I'd check in to see how you're doing ..."

This is almost always followed by a request. 

People who want to know how you're doing just ask. Better yet, they ask in a specific way, because they know you. They ask, "How did the marathon go?" Or, "How was your interview?" Or, "How is your family?"

10. "Quick favor."

At least in my experience, a "quick favor" never turns out to be quick. And neither does the actual ask.

Here's a better way to do it. I recently received this one-line email:

Daniel Coyle's new book is about high-performance teams, I would love to have him on my podcast, and I'm hoping you can connect us.

The sender clearly knew I know Dan. The name of the podcast was in the sender's sig. It was an easy request, and I always try to help out people I know, so I forwarded the email to Dan with one line: "Want me to connect you guys?" (I never share people's email addresses without asking.)

Dan said yes. 

And that's the kind of quick favor I'm happy to do.

But if the email had led with something like, "I am hoping you will do a quick favor for me. My name is John Doe, and in addition to running Acme Industries I am also the host of ..." I probably wouldn't have, mainly because I wouldn't have stuck with the email long enough to get to the good stuff.

And that, ultimately, is the point. 

Don't use passive-aggressive email phrases. Even though you may have great intentions, and may mean well, use those lines and most people will assume the worst. 

Just be courteous, professional, friendly, and, most of all, to the point. If you want something, ask. If your request is reasonable you'll get a response.

And if it's not, no amount of weasel-words will help.

Published on: May 15, 2019
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