Avoid These 4 Phrases That Make You Sound ‘Fake and Unprofessional'—Here's How Successful People Communicate

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With over 300 billion emails sent every day, the average working professional receives 121 emails daily. So when it comes to communication with bosses and colleagues, word choice and tone matter a whole lot.

Authenticity in language can help strengthen connections and mutual respect. Using words and phrases that comes across as insincere — despite your best intentions — may not only cause your email to go unanswered but present a missed opportunity to build a positive relationship.

As a leadership coach and public speaking expert, here are four annoying phrases that I've found can make you sound passive aggressive, fake and unprofessional:

1. "Not sure if you saw my last email..."

According to an Adobe Consumer Email Survey, 25% of respondents cited this as the most annoying phrase people use in work emails, followed by "per my last email."

Following up on unanswered emails can be tricky. While it's possible that the other person may have missed your email (i.e., it went to spam or got buried), it's more often that they did see it. However, they may have genuinely forgotten about it, or it was such a low priority that they ignored altogether.

It's okay to say you're following up. But make your email short and include a clear ask that lets the receiver save face. It might sound like "Can I introduce you to this client?" or "Do you have any feedback on this ad copy? If I don't hear from you by Friday, I'll assume that everything looks good."

2. "Per our conversation"

This phrase (and similarly, "as discussed" or "per" anything) sounds overly formal and borderline litigious.

Unless you are documenting something for legal purposes, avoid using this phrase. It comes across as stern, cold, distant and inauthentic.

You could instead say, "I'm attaching the article I mentioned during our call..." or "It was great talking with you earlier. Here's the job description for the open role on my team in case you know of anyone."

3. "I hope this email finds you well..."

This is an oddly roundabout way of saying "I hope you're doing well," which, depending on the relationship, can be sincere. It's best used with someone you have an established relationship and haven't been in recent contact with. It's much less sincere with people you've just met or don't know at all.

I once received an email from an acquaintance who I hadn't talked to in a while. It was late 2020 and the world had turned upside down due to Covid. It would be inauthentic to not acknowledge the anxiety and fear that we were all dealing with. She opened her message with: "I hope you and your family are doing well during this absolutely bonkers time."

"Bonkers" made her email feel genuine. It's not a word people often use in professional emails, but it addressed the fact that we were all adjusting to a rough period.

In short, don't be afraid to show that you care on a personal level.

4. "Warmly, ..." (or any auto-generated closing salutation)

While meant to save time for the sender, most auto-generated closing salutations — "Warmly," "Best," "Regards," "Many thanks," "Warm wishes," "Sincerely" — typically makes your email sound impersonal.

Your sign-off should match both the relationship you have with the receiver and the nature of your email. You wouldn't use "Warmly," for example, if you were asking the finance team about the status of your payment. Nor would you use "Thanks" if you're providing colleagues with an update — what are you thankful for?

Customize the closing salutation to the context of the message. It will only take a second or two. Of course, if you're making a request, it's fine to sign off with "Thanks." But if you're sending an update to a colleague, choose something that reflects the conversation, like "Talk soon" or "See you at tomorrow's meeting!"

Rebecca Zucker is an executive coach and a founding partner at Next Step Partners, a leadership development firm. She is a regular columnist at Harvard Business Review, and she has worked with companies like Amazon, Clorox, DocuSign and Dropbox. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rszucker.

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