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,