Without a warm smile, a reassuring tone, or other clues traditionally offered in live exchanges, a perfectly neutral statement sent via email can come across as cold or even cruel. To correct this “negativity bias,” be conscious of it and evaluate your messages carefully. And consider making use of the word “yet.” It’s a small word with few letters, but it packs a lot of power.

“Yet” serves a very specific purpose. It indicates that progress is still possible and that hope is alive, reflecting what Stanford University professor Carol Dweck calls “a growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.”

Dweck, a developmental psychologist who studies motivation, says that putting the word “yet” at the end of a critique (i.e. “We are close but not there yet”) encourages engagement and error processing rather than emphasizing the tyranny of the now and its immediate failures. It “provides a pathway to the future,” Dweck says.

Keeping hope alive is particularly important in the age of electronic communication; it’s a helpful tool for softening any perceived blows that you never intended to deal anyway. And as the Harvard Business Review recently pointed out, using placating language, with other social cues that show you mean to communicate rather than criticize, will make your messages more effective and colleagues more receptive.

So, before you hit send, check your tone, just as you would your spelling or grammar—otherwise you’re not quite done yet.

You can make your email feedback sound less critical with one word
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