Just for the record, “just” is a four-letter word.
What’s wrong with it? In order to explain that, we need to first define this seemingly simple term.
According to my go-to guide, Dictionary.com, just’s adverbial form can be interpreted as:
1. Guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness.
2. Done or made according to principle; equitable; proper
3. Based on right; rightful; lawful
4. In keeping with truth or fact; true; correct
5. Given or awarded rightly; deserved, as a sentence, punishment, or reward
6. In accordance with standards or requirements; proper or right
7. (Especially in Biblical use) righteous
8. Actual, real, or genuine
And then there’s the adjective list:
9. Within a brief preceding time; but a moment before
10. Exactly or precisely
11. By a narrow margin; barely
12. Only or merely
13. Actually; really; positively
There’s also an idiom included in the entry, but we don’t care about that right now. All we care about is definition #12: “only or merely.”
While it can be appropriate from time to time, this four-letter word is far overused in business writing, particularly email correspondences.
Want to email your boss about that raise you asked her for last week? You might feel the need to write: “Hi, Donna. I’m just checking in about that discussion we had on Thursday.”
Or if you’re trying to get in touch with a client who hasn’t paid his bill yet, you might phrase it, “Hi, Marcus. I just wanted to make sure you saw that invoice.”
What’s wrong with “just” in these contexts? Let me be blunt.
It’s weak. And it makes you, the writer, look weak.
When synonymous with “only” or “merely,” just is a subservient vocabulary choice that automatically diminishes whatever comes next. While it’s typically intended to diffuse, presenting the connected request or intention as innocent and inoffensive, what it’s really saying is, “I’m not worthy to stand in your shadow, but can I stand in your shadow anyway?”
Hopefully, you’re better than that. You were definitely created to be better than that. So how about you “just” start acting the better-than-that part!
Next time you need to send a sensitive email, do it with confidence. Not rudeness, of course, but still a strong sense of your own worth.
If you’ve been working hard, showing initiative and producing excellent results, then email your boss with something more along the lines of,
Do you have time to meet today or tomorrow? I’d love to pick up where we left off about my requested pay raise.”
By removing any trace of “just,” those sentences still acknowledge that Donna’s in charge. You’re asking to conform to her schedule, not vice versa. And the adjective “requested” makes it clear you’re not demanding or assuming anything. What you’re doing is asking for a reasonable conversation on a reasonable inquiry as a reasonable – and worthwhile – employee.
In the same way, addressing that unpaid invoice has a much better shot of achieving positive results if you cut “just” from your email vocabulary options. Something like the following lines might suffice perfectly well:
I hope you’re having a wonderful day!
I’m currently wrapping up my books for the week and see that you have an unpaid invoice for $123.45 for the editorial work you contracted to me on October 31. If you could pay that today, that would be perfect.
Definitely let me know if you have any questions about it or if I need to resend the invoice.
You did the work based on the agreement of getting paid a specific amount. It’s as simple as that. No ifs, ands, or justs about it.
Removing that one word from your emails isn’t guaranteed to get you the pay raise you deserve or the money you’re owed, of course. It’s just going to up your odds significantly when you’re well worth the try.