In 2017, a woman and a man who worked together and shared an email inbox conducted an experiment. This experiment began when the man, Martin, accidentally had his female colleague’s name, Nicole, in his signature.
Outlined in this Daily News article. He noticed that clients didn’t respond to him in a timely manner and overall gave him a much harder time. When he realized he was signing the emails with the wrong name, he reintroduced himself as Martin. Suddenly the client did a 180 and became easy to work with.
Martin and Nicole decided to switch names for two weeks. Martin would sign emails as Nicole, and Nicole would sign emails as Martin. Work suddenly became much more difficult for Martin. Clients were condescending, questioned his every move, and were overall less cooperative. He got less done because customers took so long to respond to him. Nicole on the other hand, had the easiest two weeks she had ever had at work.
This type of sexism is so prevalent in the workplace that people don’t even realize it goes on. To think that just because you sign your name with a woman’s name means you have a harder time communicating really sucks, there’s no way around that. We need to be realistic that perceptions are changing slowly. To make yourself more successful, you’re better off understanding perceptions so that you can adapt to be most successful.
Communicating via email can be tough. You need to convey information and align goals, but if you are too direct and concise, you’re likely to be viewed as harsh or even combative. If you embellish the email with flowery language so people don’t perceive you as overly aggressive, then you may not get much work done because your directives won’t be clear.
When I first started working, I had a lot of trouble responding to certain emails. I would respond to a customer with pure information. I would consult with my boss, figure out the answer to the customer’s question, and share it in a very straightforward manner. The straightforwardness was good, but it was so blunt that I sounded abrasive. My boss began telling me to add a bit of Fluff, because I sounded super abrupt. At the time, I recall re-reading my emails and agreeing that I sounded very harsh, regardless of gender.
This leads me to my favorite (and only) email writing metaphor: the Fluffernutter sandwich. A Fluffernutter consists of peanut butter and Fluff (marshmallow spread), sandwiched between two slices of bread. It is gooey and sweet and nutty and delicious, and is best when the peanut butter and Fluff are applied in the right proportions--not too much of either.
When you write an email, think of it like a Fluffernutter. The important takeaway of the email is the peanut butter. This will be the timeline, the goal setting, the data, the call to action. The peanut butter is the protein and healthy fat, so this makes sense. But if you have too much peanut butter, your mouth is too dry and you probably have a hard time chewing. Your buffer language is the Fluff. Fluff can be a warm greeting or sign off, or simply background information about how you arrived at the data. The Fluffernutter email is a perfect balance of competence and agreeableness. Here’s an example:
Thank you for the call earlier today, we’re excited you chose to place your order with us! I have attached a mock-up of your t-shirt design for your review. In order to have your order in time for the company retreat, would you please complete the following by next Friday 3/15?
If there are any issues with the order or you have any last minute questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
I will send a confirmation email once the order has been shipped. If you happen to take any pictures on your company retreat, we would love it if you tagged us on Instagram!
The email has substance and sweetness. You can make the Fluffernutter your own. Maybe you prefer more peanut butter, maybe you prefer extra Fluff. Balance them as you wish, but a well-received email will have components of each. Best of luck with your Fluffernutters!