How not to open a conversation or begin an email

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By: Gina Rubel

On any given day, I receive more than 500 forms of communication. This means opening snail mail, processing emails, responding to texts and voicemail (at work, on my cell and at home), replying to messages via social media and chat tools including Slack, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, various listservs, and others.

Most of my family, friends and colleagues know the best way to contact me based on our relationship. However, I often receive unsolicited messages that get deleted before I get past the first sentence or two.


I asked some friends and colleagues about language that turns them off. Here is what they had to say.

“I get frustrated when someone opens a conversation with, ‘I don’t like that,’ or ‘that’s not how it should be done,’ without providing a reason or presenting an alternative,” said Stephanie MacGlaughlin, an executive pastry chef and restaurant manager. She went on to say that solutions-based communications are much more effective and will almost always garner attention and respect.

Laurissa Doonan, a strategic marketer in Philadelphia, shared the following list of loser lead-ins: “With all due respect,” “Don’t take it personally, but,” and “Admittedly, I didn’t review the report, but I’m confused…”

Doonan says these openers immediately put the recipient on the defense — sometimes with disastrous consequences, as I once learned. Early in my career, I said, “with all due respect” to a judge and his response was, “so I take it you mean, ‘with no respect at all?’” I was mortified.

Tina Johns, a strategic marketer with USG Corporation, a manufacturer and distributor of high-performance building systems, said “as you may know” is a great way to blindside the recipient and make them feel out of the loop at the same time.

“It drives me crazy. Nine times out of 10, it’s used when most of the people don’t know and the email is the one informing them of whatever it is they are presumed to know,” Johns said. “‘As you may know, were firing everyone effective today.’ ‘As you may know, I’m leaving the firm effective on Friday.’ ‘As you may know, we’re cutting your budget.’ As you may know, we’re putting so and so in charge of XYZ big marketing initiative [when so and so is not a marketer].’”

Kevin O’Keefe, the CEO & Founder at LexBlog, Inc. and Publisher of Real Lawyers Have Blogs, pointed my attention to Lily Herman’s post for The Muse, 5 Common Words That Make You Sound Less Confident in Emails. Her list includes: “just,” “hopefully,” “actually,” “kind of,” and “sorry.” I agree. Add to that list: “frankly,” “seriously,” “admittedly,” “truthfully,” “candidly,” “honestly,” “I know,” “really,” “just” and “but,” and you have a great list of words to avoid in all communications, written or verbal.

Scott Upham, a corporate strategist and market researcher, said he cringes whenever he hears someone calls themselves a “growthhacker.” Now, that’s a word I haven’t heard before, but my first reaction was, “why would someone call themselves a ‘gobstopper?’” I have no idea why the Willy Wonka reference came to me, but it did. I think I’d laugh out loud if I ever received a message from someone proclaiming themselves to be a “growthhacker.”

What are the ineffective words or statements that make you recoil?

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