Why This Common Writing Mistake Often Backfires

Many of us use this writing technique hoping it will strengthen our relationships with colleagues. But it often has the opposite effect.

Imagine this scenario: You’re working in your cubicle when a co-worker stops by, does that silly fake knock on your cubicle’s half wall and asks, “Got a sec?”
Your colleague then asks you for the latest version of a file. “No problem,” you say, as you spin back around and email the file to your colleague. Favor done.
“Ding,” chimes your co-worker’s smart phone a second later, indicating your file is there. Your co-worker then screams, “WOW! Thanks! You’re a rock star! That was AWESOME!”
Several of your colleagues’ heads begin popping up over their cubicle walls, as your co-worker continues, “Seriously…  THANKS! I REALLY needed that file. THANKS again!”
Lunatic, right?
But how different is this scenario from all of those bizarre overpraise emails you receive at work? You know the ones I mean. A colleague emails you to ask what time the meeting starts, you respond with “10:30am,” and your colleague shoots back, “You ROCK! Thanks so much! I really appreciate ALL YOUR HELP!”
You might be thinking, “The two examples are completely different. Receiving overpraise in an email might feel annoying, but it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as a face-to-face overpraise like the type you just described.” Yep, you’re right.
My point, though, is that overpraise in any form – even in email – can completely backfire. Instead of making your recipients feel good, you risk annoying them and even making them question your honesty.
So why do people engage in over-the-top overpraise like this?
I believe the reasons are pretty simple. First, most of us want to be liked. And some people believe the way to make others like them is to tell people things they want to hear. So when they have a chance to praise or thank, they go way overboard.
The other reason: Because of email, instant messaging and other newfangled communication tools, we don’t have as much face-to-face contact with our colleagues as we used to. So some people use this over-the-top positive language hoping it will build rapport and strengthen relationships.
Problem is, most of us can sense sincerity – and insincerity. Even if you send an overpraise email with only good intentions – genuinely trying to make your recipient feel good – if your language contains overpraise (“You rock!”) or an outsized thank-you (“YOU SAVED MY LIFE!”), then by definition it is insincere. And your recipient could see your words – and possibly even you – as not credible.
Now, if your colleague rescues your organization, fixes a major problem in your department or makes some other enormous and praiseworthy contribution, then of course phrases like “You’re amazing!” or “You saved us!” can be appropriate.
But when a colleague sends you the contact information you requested, the correct response is not “YOU ROCK!” It’s “Thank you.”
Praise your colleagues when they make a contribution. Thank them when they help you. Just make sure your language is sincere. Your colleagues will appreciate a “Nice edits” comment when you thank them for reviewing your document much more than they’ll appreciate a “WOW! What a FANTASTIC HELP you’ve been. You’re a life-saver!” They’ll trust and respect you more, too.
And if you’ve gotten this far reading my article, let me just say that you’re the BEST READER EVER! Thanks SO MUCH!

About the Author

Robbie Hyman is a professional communications and public affairs writer. He has 15 years’ experience writing for nonprofits, small business and multibillion-dollar international organizations and is available as a freelance writer for federal agencies.

Robbie has written thousands of pages of content, including white papers, speeches, published articles, reports, manuals, newsletters, video scripts, advertisements, technical document and other materials. He is also co-founder of MoneySavvyTeen.com, an online course that teaches smart money habits to teenagers.