An article in The New York Times this weekend draws attention to the importance and dangers of how you sign off your emails.
One entrepreneur tells the story of a deal gone bad and of deteriorating email signatures:
As negotiations started to break down, the sign-offs started to get decidedly shorter and cooler,â€ Mr. Troutwine recalled. â€œIn the beginning it was like, â€˜I look forward to speaking with you soonâ€™ and â€˜Warmest regards,â€™ and by the end it was just â€˜Best.â€™
The article suggests that the more fluid medium of email makes senders and recipients equally unsure how to read the signs. At sign-off that becomes crucial:
Those final few words above your name are where relationships and hierarchies are established, and where what is written in the body of the message can be clarified or undermined.
One danger is that people will always interpret what you write differently. The entrepreneur above thought “Best” a brush-off. On the other hand:
I use â€˜Bestâ€™ for all of my professional e-mails,â€ said Kelly Brady, a perky publicist in New York. â€œItâ€™s friendly, quick and to the point.â€
(Aren’t stereotypes great?)
It’s possible to spend a lot of time thinking about this:
Because people read so much into a sign-off, said Richard Kirshenbaum, chief creative officer of the advertising firm Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, he has thought deeply about his preferred closing to professional correspondence, â€œWarmly, RK.â€ He did not want something too emotional, like â€œLove,â€ or too formal, like â€œSincerely.â€ â€œ â€˜Warmlyâ€™ fell comfortably in between,â€ he said. â€œI want to convey a sense of warmth and passion, but also be appropriate.â€
Or, like me, to spend too little. Knowing how fast I am going myself to get through my inbox, I tend not to read too much into a brief sign-off from someone else. No doubt, I am missing all the important signs.
Like all things email-etiquette related, balance seems the best target.
The one with the carefully-crafted and appropriate words can close the deal / get the job done / comfort the sobbing student / palm off the essay marking to some gullible sucker / [insert your own professionally-appropriate career goal here]. But the one who spends too much time thinking about it or over-interpreting email sign-offs gets nothing done.
Whatever you decide, you can’t dodge the issue by chosing nothing:
Many e-mail users donâ€™t bother with a sign-off, and Letitia Baldridge, the manners expert, finds that annoying. â€œItâ€™s so abrupt,â€ she said, â€œand itâ€™s very unfriendly. We need grace in our lives, and Iâ€™m not talking about heavenly grace. Iâ€™m talking about human grace. We should try and be warm and friendly.â€
The punchline belongs to Ms Mitchell who believes, among other things, that “good corporate governance is simply good manners”:
“While on the one hand e-mail encourages people to write, on the other hand it discourages people to write thoughtfully.”
[Much more on email etiquette in previous Hawk Wings posts.]etiquette, email in general, manners, not apple mail
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