How to sound polite in your emails

After my post last week about the difference between “Please advise” and “Please advice”, we received a question from a student on how to sound polite in emails.

I’ve personally received emails where the sender sounded rude even when they didn’t mean to. I’ve also sent emails in a rush and only realised they sounded rude after hitting “send”!

This is something that we may struggle with because 1) English is our second language so we may tend to be more direct in writing, and 2) when we write, people can’t hear our tone of voice and may interpret straightforward language as rude or impolite.

Phrases to use to sound more polite.

Today I’m going to share with you some examples of phrases to use in your emails to sound more polite.

1. Asking for simple requests where the reader has an obligation to comply.
For these requests, try using “Would you mind…?” or “Could you please…?”

2. Asking for favours or big requests where the reader has no obligation to comply (e.g. because it’s not part of their job).

  • I was hoping you could…
  • I was wondering if you could…
  • Do you think you might be able to…?

3. Asking for permission (vacation request, time off requests, borrowing something)

  • I am planning to… Would that be all right with you?
  • I was wondering if I could…
  • Would it be okay if I…?
  • Do you think I might be able to…?

4. Suggestions where you’re offering your point of view, or a better way of doing something.

  • What about if…?
  • Maybe we could…
  • I thought it might be a good idea to…

5. Rejecting/refusing/declining of suggestions/ideas/proposals.

  • I’m not sure that…
  • I’m afraid this might not work.
  • Unfortunately, we can’t move ahead with the proposal…

6. Pointing out a mistake.

  • It looks like there’s been a mistake.
  • There seems to be a mistake here.
  • I noticed that… Is this correct?

7. Checking on the status of something to remind someone about something you need finished.

  • Have you had a chance to finish/work on…?
  • How’s the <specific task> going? Do you need any help on it?
  • I wanted to check on <specific task>.
  • When do you think you’ll be able to finish/work on…?

Extra tips to sound polite in your emails.

Other than that, make sure you use the proper spelling of words (e.g. “you”, not “u”), avoid overuse of capital letters (e.g. COULD YOU PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS?) and avoid using more than one question mark in your sentences (e.g. Do you have a class in Shah Alam??????). Oh yes, and don’t forget to end your emails with a “thank you” whenever necessary!

So there you have it. I hope the examples and tips above will be helpful for you in building rapport with colleagues and clients through email.

We’ll talk to you again soon.

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