Dear Sir or Madam will you read my….thoughts on opening and closing emails

We do it every day, often without even thinking about it.

Some of us do it over a hundred times a day.

I’m talking about email. We send and receive and respond and forward endlessly in a variety of contexts and environments but are we doing it right?

We all know the basics of email communication – try to be concise, keep it on point, don’t say anything you would feel even slightly uncomfortable about if it were to be forwarded to your boss or grandmother, right?

Check for typos – check.

Subject line is tight and meaningful? Check.

But there are two things that can make or break your email…two things that seem so simple but can render your message dead on arrival…they can go so far as to offend the recipient outright.

How should we open and close an email? The short answer is it depends but here are some thoughts to keep in mind for general, professional communications via email.

First things first….before you even open your email client, make sure you can answer these questions:

Who are you emailing?

What is their gender?

What’s their name?

Do you know how to spell it? Are you sure?

What is their role in the organization?

Why are you contacting them?

Where are they from?

What is their religion/culture? (Yes that matters.)

If you’re emailing, for instance, an executive (or a prospective employer) it’s best to keep things somewhat formal and definitely professional.

Mind you, you don’t want to be too stuffy. Don’t hearken back to a bygone age of literary elegance. You’re not Voltaire or John Locke. Likewise, you’re not writing a love letter so leave “My Immortal Beloved” off the list of greetings as well. This isn’t poetry.

“Dear” is perfectly acceptable and it’s probably the safest play.

In the US, stick with Mr/Ms (not Mrs unless you know she’s married and is ok with being addressed as such) and the last name.

Some do debate whether “Dear” too personal, or even romantic, but most agree that is a well-established, safe, and professional greeting.

The tricky part is region/culture. Mr/Ms isn’t the norm everywhere.

For instance – if you’re communicating with someone from Thailand, it is appropriate and respectful to address the recipient using “Khun” in place of Mr. or Ms.

You may notice that it’s common for Chinese associates to place their “last” name first. In comparison to US names that would look something like: Smith, John.

In other regions titles are incredibly important and excluding them may be taken as a slight or insult.

For instance, if they are a doctor, address them as such in your greeting. Another one that comes up for me within my organization is “Captain.” In these cases, use Dr. or Captain and the last name.

Avoid using first names in your initial communication, particularly with international recipients until you know it’s OK to do so. The recipient will either sign their response as such or they may say “you may refer to me as (first name).

In many regions of the world, first (or common names) are only used between close acquaintances and friends.

Greeting someone by their first name within a professional context via email can be insulting and kill your message before they even read the body of your email.

You may be tempted to start your email with “Good Morning” but understand that your morning may be their afternoon/evening/middle of the night. If you want to do something more than just “Dear” I’ve found that “Greetings Ms/Dr/Mr/Khun/ Last Name is typically well-received but it may come off as overly formal or awkward so tread lightly when veering too far from the standard “Dear” until you’ve built a rapport and rhythm with your recipient.

How about when you’re signing off?

Again – remember you’re not writing a classical, formal letter to your beloved while fighting a war overseas so leave “love,” “forever truly,” “yours always,” and all that jazz out of it.

If it’s a casual email where you are asking a quick favor – say an internal communication where you’re requesting quick action on something like correcting the spelling of your name in a company directory – then “thanks” is fine.

BUT…if you’re emailing a potential client, particularly an executive level individual, asking for a meeting or further information – thanks isn’t going to cut it.

Consider using something along the lines of “I truly appreciate your time” or “Many thanks for your attention.” “With Thanks” is something I see regularly.

In general a safe closing is simply “Sincerely.”

I’m not a fan of “Sincerely Yours” in a business context.
As for “Regards” and everything we’ve all put before it…”warm(est)” “best” “kind(est)” etc…
My suggestion is stick with “Best Regards.” It’s simple, clean, and covers most situations. If you want your closing to be a tad more gentle but still professional, “Kind Regards” is a nice way to do that.

There seems to be a small but growing trend towards avoiding closings altogether….just finish your last sentence, hit return, and then your name.

Again – beware.

When dealing with such diverse contacts closing with just your name can seem overly abrupt…harsh even. It could even seem like you didn’t finish your thought and accidentally hit “send” before wrapping up your email.

My personal rule of thumb is to err on the side of formality and respect until the recipient creates a more casual environment…let them lead this little dance.

Wait to see how they responds before shifting to more casual/friendly closings like simply “all the best,” “Have a great day,” or “cheers” or moving towards simple “Hi” and first name greetings.

Sometimes when emailing certain individuals they may respond by addressing me simply as “Jason” and close with their first name but depending on the context of the communication I may stick with using Ms/Mr/Dr – last name until I know for sure they will not be insulted.

Again – it’s about building a rapport and in order to get your message across you have to build a healthy one.

Once that rapport is established you’ll be able to read their cues and respond in kind…and make sure you do. Again, when dealing with diverse cultures it’s vital to apply yourself a bit.

Don’t go overboard though. If you go out of your way to close an email using a colloquial phrase used in any given region of the world that you looked up online you run the risk of coming off as trying too hard. Even worse, you may appear insulting or patronizing.

So that’s my piece for today – when in doubt, err on the side of restraint and professionalism when opening and closing your emails and let the recipient dictate the tone.

What are some of your best practices? What works for you when interacting with your business clients and associates, particularly ones you don’t already have a relationship with? What are you best “ice breakers” for initial contact?

Until next time…

Be Well and Kind,





Changing the narrative

Yesterday, a really smart lady brought up the subject of “changing my narrative” and how necessary it is to reprogram my outlook on a couple things about my life.

It got me to thinking about this notion of controlling your narrative and being self-aware enough to know when you need to change it. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about it but it’s the first time I’ve thought about it in such a specific way in a long time.

Our narratives are often dictated to us when we’re kids. Our parents, our schoolmates, teachers, bullies, the cool kids, the smart kids, the assistant principals, coaches, and everyone in between all have a hand in shaping our narrative. As times have progressed and society has become more aware, there’s been a lot of emphasis on The Media and how it can negatively frame our narratives related to issues like weight, “beauty,” and gender stereotypes.

As we get older there are other figures that help shape our narrative, sometimes for good, sometimes not. Our professors, coworkers, and supervisors feed us input that go into our narrative.

Then at some point it’s written. Our memories and experiences and the emotions attached to them become codified in our minds and hearts and our narrative is set. It becomes the story we tell ourselves and the story we tell about ourselves and for better or worse, it guides us and shapes how we navigate through life.

But our stories are every-changing. Our narrative doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s incumbent upon all individuals, and organizations, to be self-aware enough to identify those key moments that demand we take control of our narratives.

At some point we just can’t let ourselves be that kid who lived on the fringes of all the cool groups, desperate to be included. At some point we can’t let ourselves be the adult who is constantly chasing some nebulous definition of success.

Organizations face this challenge every day. Social media has proven to be a blade that truly cuts both ways as some companies are able to get their message out and engage their audiences with a personal and creative touch that pays dividends. Others have seen consumers take control of the narrative with viral shares of negative reviews and screen caps of poorly phrased statements by a social media manager who was in over the heads or having a particularly bad day. Once lost, control of the narrative can be difficult to regain.

Last year I had the pleasure of speaking to the corporate leadership of a oil well drilling services company that was struggling to survive the incredible drop in oil barrel prices. When drilling throughout the United States slowed down, and in many cases simply stopped, demand for their services ended. They wanted to take this as an opportunity to do a bit of a reset.

They wanted to lay the groundwork for the time when oil prices would rebound so that when the drilling resumed, they would be well positioned as the most recognizable, customer-oriented service provider in the industry.

They wanted to change the narrative. They did an incredible job redesigning their website, they made some key decisions related to how they approached their corporate partners and suppliers, and they hired a couple of incredibly talented people to help shape their marketing strategy and training programs. As oil prices have crept back up, they have begun to reap the rewards of their bold decision to take control of their narrative. They refused to let circumstances dictate who they were going to be.

Every day we decide whether or not we will own our narrative or if we will allow others to write out stories. Every day we have to decide whether or not we’re willing to finally put periods on sentences that have had question marks on them. Every day we have the opportunity to close the book on the story we’ve been writing for too many years and start crafting a new one.

Take that opportunity. Take that opportunity to tell your story, the way you want to tell it to everyone who needs to hear it….especially yourself.

Be Well and Kind,


In defense of a History degree

I’ve been a “business professional” my entire career. I’ve worked in market research, retail and corporate training and management, and communications in a variety of environments.

One of the questions I’m most often asked during employment interviews or even just around the water cooler is about my undergraduate degree.

I graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in History and a minor in Religious Studies. When I initially enrolled, I was a creative writing major and then changed to history after realizing that I was gravitating towards those classes rather than those in the English department.

Most of my colleagues, coworkers, and peers have business degrees of some variety or another, others have marketing degrees, several are engineers.

I stick out like a sore thumb.

The fact of the matter is, however, that my academic background has provided me with invaluable experience and skills that have formed the foundation of every success and ability I’ve developed as a business professional.

Committing yourself to the study of history and religious studies is not for the faint of heart.

These disciplines require critical thinking, research and analytical skills, and the ability to comprehend wildly divergent cultural and political beliefs systems.

Once the research is complete, you’re required to condense all that information into a coherent and sound analysis. Tailoring the papers and articles to appropriate and varied audiences require advanced writing and communications skills.

As a history major I was required to conduct peer reviews, provide group presentations, lead teams of researchers, collaborate on large projects with strict deadlines while adhering to detailed style guides.

It’s often taken for granted or overlooked but studying history combines the most essential professional skills into one massive and fascinating undertaking.

Success in a global business community requires quick thinking, intellectual agility, cultural awareness, communications skills, and the ability to condense and deliver massive amounts of information in an efficient and effective manner.

There may be no better foundation from which to develop these skills than tackling a degree in History.