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The naked truth behind our email language

by Yellow

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The average office worker spends about 2.5 hours a day reading and replying to emails. The problem is that the bulk of those emails are not urgent. They, however, eat into precious time that could be spent doing more productive work. 

As we desperately try to keep up with the pace of our insatiable inbox, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using the same, convenient phrases to express ourselves. What many of us fail to realise is that these seemingly innocuous phrases often come with subtle meanings - meanings we often picked up on when we were on the receiving end. Here’s how to read the message tucked away between the lines of many overused email expressions. 



The way you start off an email sets the tone. You want to ensure that your greetings are appropriate and that you don’t come across as pushy, forceful or disrespectful. The line between being polite and coming across as rude can be a fine one. 


To whom it may concern 

Context: This is one of the most impersonal ways of starting a business email. Rather than do your research (that may involve an internet search or a quick phone call), it’s easier to simply type in “to whom it may concern” when you don’t know exactly who’s on the receiving end. But you might as well write…

Translation: I can’t be bothered to address a real person.


Thank you for your email 

Context: We receive many emails. Some are positive, some negative. Others are a complete waste of time. Yet, more often than not, we start by thanking the sender for their email. 

Translation:  I’m not a machine. I just always start my emails the same way.


I know you’re busy

Context: You’re about to send an email to a person who you perceive to be very busy. You really need a reply but don’t want to waste their time. So you get empathic and type “I know you’re busy.”

Translation: You never reply.



Context: Someone has sent you an email asking for some urgent action. You forward it to a colleague. All you write in the forwarded email is “FYI”.

Translation: Handle it!




There are times when we take time to send an email and we’re faced with silence. Not even a simple acknowledgement. This can get very frustrating. Especially if you’re depending on a reply to move forward with something. This is when you have to go back to your keyboard and chase replies.


Not sure if you received my last email 

Context: When an email you’ve sent, or a request in an email, remains unanswered you follow it up with another email. You try to be nice and give the illusion that you’re giving the recipient the benefit of the doubt. 

Translation: We both know you received my email. Stop ignoring me!


Shall I forward it again?

Context: Another way of chasing an unanswered email is by asking the recipient if you should forward it again. This looks like an innocent statement but here’s what it actually means…

Translation: I have proof that I’ve sent the email. And I’m ready to use it.


Just a friendly reminder 

Context: You’ve asked someone to do or send something in a previous email and you’re still waiting. So you send a “friendly reminder’. Let’s face it, the last thing you’re feeling is “friendly”.

Translation: You’d better get it done yesterday! 


In case you missed it 

Context: Similar to the “friendly reminder”, here’s another way of insisting on a request you’ve made in a previous email. What you’re really saying is… 

Translation: You didn’t do it the first time round. Do it!


Per my last email 

Context: Sometimes we send an email and the reply we receive leaves us wondering if the recipient actually bothered reading it. Then, in the heat of the moment, we write “as per my last email…”

Translation: I repeat. I already said this before. 


Just following up

Context: You’ve sent an email asking a colleague to get something done. Time has passed and you want to ensure everything is in hand. So you send a follow-up email.

Translation: I’m micromanaging.




Email writing can easily transform into a subtle war of words. Sometimes our requests are ignored or we receive infuriatingly irrelevant replies. Then there are times when we use email as a tool to “put things in writing” - to ensure that there is black-on-white proof of what we want to say. 


To put it simply 

Context: Some emails require us to explain a somewhat elaborate argument or idea. Following this up with the words “to put it simply…” can come across as patronising. It’s essentially like saying…

Translation: In case you’re a bit stupid.


Correct me if I’m wrong 

Context: You outline the way you are perceiving a situation in an email to a client or college and then conclude by writing: “correct me if I’m wrong”. What you’re really saying is…

Translation: I’m right and I know it. 


Please let me know if I misunderstood

Context: The cousin phrase of “correct me if I’m wrong”, you’ve just mapped out your understanding of a situation and you don’t want to be challenged.

Translation: Yep. I’m right.


With all due respect 

Context: This is most probably sensitive correspondence that involves some form of disagreement. You make your point and then try to ensure it’s clear that you are, after all, being respectful.

Translation: You’re wrong about this. 


Going forward

Context: Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Something goes wrong and an entire email chain is ignited in an attempt to figure out what happened to avoid repeating the mistake “going forward”.

Translation: Don’t do it again!


In copy

Context: You’ve had enough of being ignored, or you’re not satisfied with replies you’ve received. So you take things up a notch and cc someone else, usually a superior, into the email thread.

Translation: You ignored me so I’m telling on you.



Now that you’re said all that needs to be said, it’s time to close off your email. Even at this stage of writing there are some phrases that can be loaded with meaning. 


Please advise 

Context: There’s been a situation at work and there’s disagreement about the best way forward. So you play your cards right and throw the ball in someone else’s court.

Translation: Stop wasting my time and get things done.


Thanks in advance 

Context: You’ve just drafted out an email that contains some form of request. You are asking someone to do something or send information. Then, before you sign off, you politely type “thanks in advance”.

Translation: I’ve decided. You’re doing this.


Look forward to hearing from you 

Context: You’ve sent out an email reaching out for some information. You sign off by saying that you’re looking forward to hearing back from the recipient. 

Translation: Reply asap! Please.


All the best

Context: You’ve written your email and ensured you’ve covered all important points. Perhaps this was a reply to correspondence you received. Then you sign off “all the best”.

Translation: This conversation is over.


Kind regards

Context: Your emails might not always be long, but many are likely to include a demand or two. What matters is ending on kind note, right?

Translation: I’m trying to sound polite after all my demands.



Navigating your inbox can sometimes feel like making your way through a minefield. You have to be on constant alert to ensure nothing you do or say explodes in your face. Abiding by email etiquette is not always as straightforward as it seems. 

Despite all this, however, email can be a very powerful communication tool. Stay strong in the digital arena and put your contact details out there for new customers to find you. Get your business listed on Yellow

Discover local - www.yellow.com.mt.


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