How to Avoid Being Rude in an Email

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As convenient as they can be, emails, like any form of written communication online, can be a breeding ground for misunderstandings and awkward situations. Let’s examine a brief exchange:

Federal Agent: 'Hillary, we can't have these emails being sent back and forth through your personal account. We need them moved to our official address ASAP!' May 12, 2016 09:14

Secretary of State: 'Got it. I'll try to move them over there in the next couple of weeks.' May 12, 2016 10:23

Federal Agent: 'Not good enough! There's a lot at stake here, don't muck about!' May 12, 2016 10:24

Secretary of State (leaves the computer and storms into the Fed's office with a tearful eye.): ‘A 'please' wouldn't kill you, James! You really hurt my feelings there. Never mind moving the darned emails about. I'll just delete them altogether.’ 

See how little it takes to set off an explosion? By simply concocting a curt email, disregarding the emotions of the recipient, and clicking Send, this kind of communication can become quite the recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, coming across as unprofessional or downright rude in an email (even if you didn’t mean to) is a pretty common problem in the workplace.

In contrast to talking in-person or over the phone, email excludes some fairly essential aspects of communication, such as the color and the tone of someone's voice.

When we speak, our emotions, authority, and even the degree of our urgency, are conveyed through our voice. Capturing all of these in written form can be tricky, if not impossible at times.

The Power Of A Misinterpreted Email

Consider the phrase “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” In the absence of an email recipient not hearing your tone and voice, your message is open to way more interpretation. That’s the main reason why/how emails can cause huge blow-ups.

When it comes to emails, your wording is vital. If you’re not careful, you can believe that you’re saying something a certain way, while the person on the other end will sense you as being pushy or rude. Something as simple as a short, abrupt sentence can make someone feel like you don’t care enough, or that you’re being disrespectful.

Remember that every individual has a different innate sensibility, so a certain etiquette of writing can appear casual to one person, but completely pushy and disrespectful to another. Poorly-written emails can snowball into full-blown conflict among teams, and can even cause customers to stop doing business with you.

So how do we manage email etiquette? Here are five simple tips to guide the next words that you type into an email, especially if it’s an important one.

How to Sound Respectful in an Email

1. Be Direct but not Curt - Beating around the bush to avoid sounding too pushy can come across as patronizing. If something needs to be done, you shouldn't feel reluctant about being direct.

On the other hand, intentionally writing curt messages is also quite rude. A curt email shows disrespect and disinterest in the person on the other end. A direct email shows that you trust the person on the other end, and feel free to communicate the gist of things in an efficient manner.

2. Take Your Time - More often than not, messages sent through email tend to sound awkward or downright rude if they've been put together in haste. We’re not talking about the ones that say, “Sure, that location works for me,” or “Hey Jane, wondering if you’re able to join this week’s lunch n’ learn?” We’re referring to the ones that address an important question or issue that has to do with the person themselves.

For example, you might want to be extra careful (and take extra time) when writing to an employee who’s having some problems at work, and needs your help. 

To avoid getting misinterpreted, take your time when writing an email and make sure you've expressed yourself fully before clicking 'send.' It may also help to reread your message once or twice before sending it, as a precautionary measure.

3. Be Polite - All things considered, nothing beats a little politeness. When concocting an email, make sure to start with a greeting, such as a simple 'Hey Jane.' Also, make sure to add a 'please' when making a request. These little bits of kindness can go a long way towards avoiding misinterpretations. 

4. Avoid using these words - When it comes to creating an email, some words should just be avoided. We’re not saying you should censor yourself by any means , but if you’re writing an email, try to exclude these where possible. Here are five common examples: 

  • No - (in the sense of correcting someone) There’s no use correcting someone’s info via email. If you want to present the recipient with some information that differs from what they said, simply say it without the initial negation.
  • Sorry, but… - Ever received an email that feels like the ‘sorry’ is an excuse? If you’re sorry about something, apologize with sincerity, and admit your wrongdoing. Inserting the word ‘but’ after the ‘sorry’ diminishes the value of the apology. In some cases, it might actually cause the other person to become more upset, because no one wants an insincere or fake apology.
  • Actually - Saying ‘actually’ in an email sounds patronizing. It’s like the other person doesn’t know their stuff, so you need to present them with what’s actually going on.
  • Fine - ‘Fine’ is pretty much a ‘meh’ in written form. Using it will make you seem uninterested and rude.
  • Swear Words - It’s tough to come across as serious and professional when your email is filled with swear words. It doesn’t matter how much rapport you’ve established with the other person, it’s best to err on the side of caution here.

If you’d like to see more words that you should avoid when writing emails, check out this article. *Spoiler alert* There’s six more where those five came from, for 11 in total. All of which are very rude, no doubt. 

5. Be Empathetic - Always remember that, when you’re writing an email, there is a human recipient on the other end. While maintaining an official tone and a certain degree of etiquette at first is the safest bet for starting off your conversation with someone (especially if they’re new to you), you should always be ready for a more cordial exchange if the other party initiates it.

For example, if the person you’re talking to tends to use smiley faces, following suit shows that you mean well and are comfortable with a more casual style of communication. Tactics like this makeup for some of the communication that you lose without facial expressions and hand gestures.

Writing an email shouldn't be rocket science. To avoid sounding rude as a person in a leadership position in your business, it’s important to be precise, explain what you want in detail, and reread it before sending. By following these few simple steps, you'll be considered a respectable and kind co-worker.

According to some research on the topic of incivility, being respectful towards your employees is considered one of the most important qualities of a leader. If you believe that you are clumsy when it comes to writing emails, getting it right will benefit you in more ways than you’d think. 

At the end of the day, email is just one form of communication, and there’s no reason why you should restrict yourself to it exclusively when it comes to your business dealings.

Sometimes simply picking up the phone and making a call can be a much more effective solution. Also, your colleagues and business partners will see you as more of a three-dimensional character if they see you trying to reach them in various ways. 

Writing emails is a great alternative to meeting someone or giving them a call. It’s got a connotation of ‘officialness’ and distance to it, so as long as you use it wisely, and are always respectful and kind when you do, you should be able to avoid miscommunication.




Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.

7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Focus

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One of the most common problems that working people face worldwide is the chronic lack of focus.

In a world where we are bombarded with stimuli from social media, apps, and our computers, it’s no wonder we suck at being efficient.

Research indicates that employees on average waste as much as 60 hours every month on various distractions. That’s a significant amount of wasted time.

According to various studies, once your brain is distracted, it takes between 5 and 15 minutes for the brain to recalibrate and get back on track.

In the interest of being focused, let’s jump in and talk about some common focus-killers and effective strategies to tackle this elephant – one bite at a time.

Common Workplace Distractions

  • Phones - Since accessing your social media profiles is a couple of clicks away, it's easy to fall into the temptation to glance at your iPhone every couple of minutes.
  • E-mails - Another time waster is constantly checking emails.
  • Hunger - This one may sound like a no-brainer, but hunger is one of the primary culprits for lack of concentration in the workplace.
  • Multitasking - Often seen as valuable skill, multitasking is actually a nasty vice that's bound to drain your energy and leave you disoriented and disorganized.
  • Idle Chatter - Even though having regular conversations with your colleagues are vital to a healthy corporate culture, too many random interruptions are detrimental to productivity.

Who’s the culprit?

The part of your brain that is the most responsible for managing focus, is the prefrontal cortex.

It is closely connected to key functions such as decision so it’s calling the shots when it comes to managing your thoughts and actions. It also plays a major part in regulating our attention span. Essentially – the part of the brain that is responsible for concentrating on a task, is also the most susceptible to getting distracted.

The good news is that neuroscience research has revealed that our brains are plastic, and they can be trained to become more focused.

So, how do you train your brain? I’ve listed seven ways to do this.

Seven Ways to Improve Your Focus

1. Be Mindful – Mindfulness comes in two forms but I’ll focus on just one of them here – informal mindfulness. This involves paying close attention to the little things we do every day – something we often miss because of the busyness of our work days.

Cultivating it fair fairly simple, but it requires consistency. It also requires you to have an open mind because this stuff may seem a little bizarre. I work with engineers and technical leaders who think initially think this these techniques are silly – until they try it!  

A couple daily practices where you can apply this:

  • The next time you wash your hands, pay close attention to the temperature of the water, watch how your hands interact with the water and soap, Watch closely and be fully immersed in the experience.
  • When you drink your next cup of coffee or tea, observe the smell, taste and even the sound of you sipping that beverage. Again, be in the moment and avoid gulping it down with a phone in one hand and the computer in front of you.

2. Switch It Off – Way too many people check their phones every few minutes. Research indicates that employees tend to spend an average of 56 minutes on their cellphones every day (and that’s just while they’re at work).

We live in a world, where people feel deprived if they don’t have their phones on them. Resisting this device is perhaps one of the most challenging battles of the 21st century. Discipline will help you train your brain to focus on what matters.

Turn your phone off when you’re working on specific projects. And don’t stop there. Put it away -in a drawer or some place you can’t easily access. Seeing it infront of you is enough of a temptation.

Remind yourself that the only time you can take a look at it, is once you’ve completed the piece of work that you were focused on. Sometimes that means putting it away for 30 minutes, sometimes it means 5 hours.

3. Stop The Dinging - If you’re notorious for turning on notifications on your phone or computer, know this - you’re feeding your brain crack. Not literally but close. Research has proven that we get a high from being notified that someone liked our post or sent us a message. Turn those notifications off if it causes you to check your phone every time it findings.

4. Breathe - Engage in the practice of steady breathing by setting aside two minutes each day to notice your breath. Find a comfy spot with little distraction. Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth. When you breathe in, feel the air enter your lungs, expand into your chest, and then into your stomach. When you exhale, feel the tension being released.

5. Walk -  If you’re feeling unfocused and overwhelmed, stop. Get out of your office or workstation. If possible, get outside and into the fresh air. Walk for about 5 minutes and when you’re back at your desk, the next 55 minutes will be the most productive they’ve been.

6. Create Flow - In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the renown psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that happiness and joy in life can be achieved through creating a personal raison d’être for ourselves.

Rather than resorting to  external quick-reward mechanisms, having a sort of ‘unifying theme’ in life helps us achieve serenity and joy regardless of the surrounding circumstances and distractions. If you’re interested in human nature and what makes humans move forward, you should definitely check out this book!

7. Meditation - Meditation can do wonders for concentration. Successful entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and even UFC’s tough guy Joe Rogan are known to practice meditation on a daily basis.

Meditating relaxes your tensed up body, clears brain fog, and helps you reset your thoughts in a relatively short period of time. Anyone can do it, and you don’t need a meditation room and a special calming setting to do this. 10 minutes in your office or car might end up being just fine, if that’s all you have.

If you’re unsure how to get started, there’s help, and it’s in the form of an app called Headspace. My clients swear by it.

Now that you know these 7 strategies, you should be less likely to be distracted by cat videos and the dinging of your phone.

Even Tibetan monks are bound to divert their attention from their tasks every now and again, but giving in to various distractions on a regular basis can hamper your productivity and waste tons of time for no good reason.

That being said, the art of focus isn’t rocket science. All you need is a little bit of effort and intention.

Science says that our brains are only as effective as we train them to be so reading this article is step 1. It’s time to put theory into practice.

P.S. If you’re a neuroscience geek like I am, here are some additional techniques to exercise your prefrontal cortex (focus center) and getting it moving like a well-oiled engine.


Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in  behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.