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Email etiquette; salutations and valedictions

Salutation

What

It is a simple written indication, confirming the person you are emailing

For example:

Brian,

Why

When you use a salutation you convey a couple things:

  • You can communicate in a professional way and therefore, you are a professional
  • You can take the time to formally acknowledge the person you are emailing, or in other words, you are paying them respect, whether they are a superior, a peer or a subordinate
  • If you are writing an email to multiple recipients, you are clarifying/confirming who the main recipient is, if there is a main recipient. Yes, you may put this in the TO and others in the CC, but this simple gesture serves to make this clear
  • It serves to introduce the communication to avoid the appearance of being rude. For example, would you just walk up to someone on the street and immediately ask them directions? Or would you say, “Excuse me, Sir” or “Sorry to bother you” etc

When

A simple rule is always to include a salutation, in the first email in a thread

  • You should always include a salutation in your email
  • When you email a stranger, prospect, customer, potential employee etc for the first time
  • When you email anyone the second, third, … nth time
  • When you email your boss, a co-worker, a peer
  • When you communicate via social media. Just because it isn’t an email is no excuse to not communicate professionally

After the first email, in a particular thread, you are no longer obligated to repeat the salutation, although it can still be used, and I will often to continue to do this.

I have a simple method of dealing with emails without a salutation. If it from outside the company, and not a customer (or someone else I’m obligated to communicate with), I ignore it. If it is from inside the company, I reach out to the person and remind them how to communicate via email.

For my perspective, finding an email from me without a salutation would be very rare. I’ve sent 10’s, if not 100’s of thousands of emails and my guess is that 99.9% included a salutation. Of those, some of the emails were intended to convey a lack of respect, so the lack of salutation was purposeful.

How

Simple rule: First is best

In the US, using the subject’s first name, e.g. Brian, without “Dear” is preferred.

I would not recommend using “Mr” or “Ms” and the last name. In information technology such salutations are anachronistic.

The joke is “Mr. [name]” is my dad’s name.

Also, I don’t even know what the proper way to address a woman is because it depends on whether she is married. Is it “Miss”, “Ms”? Hell, if I know. You can avoid this problem with just using a first name

Is using a first name to informal? It isn’t for me, and I was in the military and I’m a stickler for respectful correspondence.

Note: Nobody uses “Sir” anymore in the US. I’m sorry. If you are referring to someone as Sir, you might fit in in 19th century England but here and now it is overly formal. I will immediately correct people in business who refer to me as “Sir” that they don’t have to do that (and that I would prefer if they didn’t). The old Army joke is “Don’t call me Sir. I work for a living”. I do understand that there are some cases, like customer service, on the phone, where this may be helpful and appropriate. 

Valediction

What

A simple farewell message i.e. Best, Sincerely, Warm regards etc at the end of your email

Why

Would you just hang up a phone, without saying “Good bye” to someone? No, of course not. So leaving out a valediction can come across as abrupt, rude

When

Always on the first email of a thread. I would leave it out on subsequent emails unless you have a sense that it will be the last in a thread

How

  • Sincerely
  • Best
  • Regards
  • Best regards
  • Kind regards

My favorite valediction is “Thanks”. You can’t really go wrong with that, in most cases

Tom,

Could you update me on the status of the meeting?

Thanks,

Brian

Note: Having an email signature is NOT a valediction, nor is it an excuse to not include one. But … if you are crafty and smart, you may build one into your signature, if it matches the font of your email perfectly, looking like you types it. I’ve seen many people try to do this and fail, so if you are going to do it, do it right or just type it out every time.

Objections

I hear objections from some people that this is unnecessary and inferred. I disagree. I notice any missing salutation and I take it as a sign of disrespect. If you want to risk eliciting that kind of reaction from the recipient of your communication, go ahead and roll the dice. But for the cost of a fraction of a second (see next) it is well worth it.

Another objection I hear is that it takes too long to type. My standard answer to that is to learn to type faster. In the age of the knowledge worker, not being able to type *extremely* fast is simply not an option.

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