Thursday, January 28, 2016
Sorry Not Sorry — There's An App for That!
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Do you ever catch yourself giving a knee-jerk apology in emails? Or "softening" your language online? "So sorry, but I need to reschedule the meeting... "Or, “This may sound crazy, but..."
Tami Reiss created the app "Sorry Not Sorry" after making a New Year’s resolution to rid her emails of these minimizers and apologies. Her app has been available for download since the end of December as a Chrome extension designed to edit these verbal tics. It works by underling apologies, self-minimizing phases, and self-demeaning words in your emails (such as "I'm no expert, but....") in red. When you move your cursor over the underlined word, it gives an explanation as to why it's a weak word/phrase choice, For example, Tara Mohr says, “ ‘Just’ demeans what you have to say. ‘Just’ shrinks your power.” And Sylvia Ann Hewlett tells us: “Using sorry frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership.”
I have to admit, I have a few of these flaws in my emails. Usually, I go back and fix them on my own, but I'm also guilty of lots of exclamation points (!!!) And the occasional smile face icon. Why? Well, I remember being in a job at a publishing house when I was in my twenties and being told by a male boss that my letters and emails were "cold." Couldn't I be friendlier? Like the other (female) assistant, who drew smiley faces on her business letters? And, being twenty-five and wanting to keep my boss happy and my job, I did.
Well, that was (ahem, many) years ago — and now I wonder what exactly the male assistants' letters sounded like, and if they were encouraged to make smile faces. I think not. Could I have used this program back then? Maybe, although I really do think that "cute" language was encouraged by management.
Now I work for myself and do tend to bend over backward to be friendly, especially online, where tone can seem colder than intended. Still, reading about this program makes me wonder about this tendency in myself. I did download Chrome to try it out, but I have to say I'm not in love with it as a browser, and so never really used the app much. But it has made me read through my writing with a more critical eye, looking for anything needlessly apologetic.
And so, here's to us women (and men, too, of course) being clear and strong in our emails and writing — with or without the help of an app.
Reds, do you see the tendency to apologize and soften language in your correspondence? Would you ever try an app to see how much you really use diminishing phrases? If you do try it, please tell us how it works for you.
LUCY BURDETTE: Honestly, I drive myself crazy with exclamation points and smiley faces and LOL's in emails. I would never put any of that in a book or story, so why is it ok in messages?? So interesting about your publishing house experience Susan--were you asked to put smiley faces on rejections? I've gotten plenty rejections in my career, but never one like that LOL LOL.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am BIG on using capital letters in emails and posts, :-) and then I often go back and take them out because it looks so silly and childlike. But not always. And smiley faces, too, are a useful shortcut, because they're a quick way to imply "meant to be funny" or "shrug, what are you going to do, you know?"
It's such a fascinating topic, "being friendly." There's a difference between being assertive and being brusque, and that's difficult to transmit in emails.
So I just realized I was thinking: should I change it to.. "can be difficult to transmit"? Or "is sometimes difficult to transmit"?
("just" in the above case meaning "right now" and not "only.")
(oops, did it again.)
And, finally, only peripherally apropos, :-) I just wrote a short story for the Laurie R King Les Klinger Sherlock Holmes anthology that's based on my "Holmes" character's antipathy for email emoticons.
Back to the topic: yes, I definitely consciously try to make sure my emails are not brusque... And how guys email (and talk on the phone) is a whole separate topic. As in: I always say goodbye. Jonathan doesn't.
HALLIE EPHRON: What is so easy to do in an email or text is to be SO (caps! exclamation point) brief that you sound rude. Why insult someone when you don't mean to? So I'm all for the softening which I see as emotional leavening. And in my experience it's not about gender.
An aside, one thing I try to do more and more whenever I interact with someone is to say Hello, how are you today? Look them in the eye. And mean it. Connect personally before I get down to business. Cashiers in the market, tellers at the bank, everyone out there's a person and when you sit behind a computer too much you can tend to forget that.
RHYS BOWEN: Not sounding rude in emails is something I battle with all the time. I'm so keen to say what I have to that I forget to start with the polite Hi. How are yous. Often I notice that they sound as if I'm barking out a command or a request when I'm not and I have to add politeness.
My big regret is that there will never again be the collected correspondence between two literary figures. When I've just had an interesting email exchange with someone well-known I think about this and how the snippets of wit or humor will be lost forever. Maybe I should save or print out our emails, just in case?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, I have such a problem with this. CAPS. Exclamations!!! Justs and sorrys. Often I write what I really want to say, then go back and add in "softeners." But if you read literary correspondence, as Rhys mentioned, they didn't forget the niceties. They were certainly more graceful with them, however.
On the other hand, my hubby sends one word texts and one line emails, "just getting the job done," and I always feel a little insulted that they are so abrupt. There must be a happy medium.
I have Chrome but it's not my default browser (don't particularly like it) but I may try that app. At least thinking about this should make me more aware.
I'm very big on making personal contact--look people in the eye, smile, say, "how are you?" It does make a difference, so it should in emails, too.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I do think there's a
middle ground between barking out one-liners and using so many softeners and qualifiers it sounds like you're a wet dishrag. I try to write professional emails the same way I would write letters: salutation, polite but to the point body, farewell.
Deb, Ross and I are a bit like you and Rick, only switched. I keep emails as short as possible without being brusque, and Ross likes to add all sorts of homey words and long explanations. We all get SO many emails everyday - why make the recipient suffer through more sentences than necessary?
Where I do fall short is in conversation. I'm trying hard to cut out "Well, I think" and "It's just my opinion, but" and "Wouldn't you say?" Men don't use language like that, and I don't want to either.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Lovely Readers, what do you think about this app? Would you consider using it? Why or why not? Do you think women apologise too much? Please tell us in the comments!