writing a 'professional' email

Enough with the “Professional” Talk. It’s Tacky.

You know the feeling when you receive a rejection letter?

Ugh, it’s awful. Especially if you really wanted the thing, whatever it was. But let’s be real—sometimes, it’s not that you didn’t get the gig. It’s that after putting your heart and soul on the line, all you got was an impersonal, blasé letter that’s barely mail merged with your name. It’s embarrassing to be met with such a simple response, and oftentimes such an opposite experience from your interview.

It’s funny how we’ve trained ourselves to feel like this is normal.

And you know, I get it. When you’re managing potentially hundreds of applications, it makes sense that you’re going to try to save yourself some time.

However, this rugged indifference isn’t limited to uncomfortable letters. It carries through to the times when we’re communicating one-on-one as well.

How many emails do you write that begin with, “Dear Mr. So and So,” and are peppered with phrases like “I am writing to inform you that…” “Regrettably…” “We are pleased to say…”

We’ve been trained to believe that aloof, “professional” talk is what makes good business communication. We avoid getting into the messy details, whether good or bad. We keep up a professional mask to show that we are worthy of business-y respect. We use “we” even when it’s just little ol’ you behind the website.

We’re all trying to out-business each other.

But this is the bottom line: People don’t respond to that. It’s a haze of impenetrable professionalism that pushes people away. But we do it because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do it. We do it when we don’t have a voice of our own.

The cure, then? Let’s stop using our professional faces, and instead try to connect on a deep, human level. Let’s be just a bit more vulnerable. After all, the only real “business contacts” are the people we’ve come to know well enough to trust.

4 ways to find your voice and stop sounding like an unapproachable suit

Before you shoot off your next email, try one of these exercises. Does your communication connect, or does it put up a wall?

1) Read it out loud

Does it sound like you talking, or does it sound like something that’s better suited to a conference room? I don’t care if your customers spend their days in conference rooms—they hate it. Be a breath of fresh air.

2) Take a section and try to state the core idea in 10 words or less

What’s the main point that you’re trying to get at? When we try to write “professionally,” we often stuff paragraphs full of important-sounding nonsense. If you can’t do this exercise, then you’re not actually saying anything. Which means your readers aren’t actually reading anything.

3) Another way to do #2: Rewrite it as if your reader is a 5 year old

I’m not calling your customers stupid, mind you! But this is an easy way to clarify your main points. Tell yourself you’ll go back and add back in the professional-sounding parts later. Then don’t.

4) Use a speech to text converter like SpeechNotes to write for you while you talk

You’ll need to clean up anything you actually plan on sending at the end, but this is a great way to better understand how you talk in real life. Go ahead, it’s fun.


Photo by Thomas Lefebvre, used under CC 0

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