A definitive guide on how to walk the very fine line between too formal and 's’up?'
Sending an email, especially a work one, can be like running a gauntlet of manners and social etiquette. How do you set the tone? You want to sound friendly-yet-formal, professional but not like you’re being propped up with a massive stick.
And don’t for a second think you’re wasting time stressing over your greeting, as business-etiquette expert Barbara Pachter explains how important setting the right tone really is.
‘Many people have strong feelings about what you do to their names and how you address them,’ she tells Business Insider. ‘If you offend someone in the salutation, that person may not read any further. It may also affect that person’s opinion of you.’
Barbara, along with Will Schwalbe and David Shipley co-authored Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, and have shared with The Independent the best way to start and email – plus which greetings to avoid.
And the winner is…
Drum roll, please…
Yup, the simple ‘Hi’ is the best way to start any email. While Pachter says it’s a safe and familiar way to address someone, Schwalbe says: ‘The reason I like this one is that it’s perfectly friendly and innocuous.’
If you’re feeling that it’s a little too casual, they advise to follow it with ‘Hi Mrs. Smith…’ rather than just the person’s Christian name.
And here are a few to steer clear of…
It’s fine for friends, but in the workplace it’s far too casual, especially if you haven’t met the person you’re addressing. Schwalbe adds: I can never get out of my head my grandmother’s admonition “Hey is for horses.”’
Also avoid ‘Hey there.’ It tells the person, ‘I don’t know your name, but if I try to sound cool and casual, maybe you won’t notice.’
While the experts admit that the ‘dear family’ is tricky, as it’s not terrible, they all agree it’s a little formal and old-fashioned.
‘Dear Sir or Madam’
This is an absolute no-no. Not only is it too formal, it also shows that you don’t know who you are emailing. ‘Why then should the reader be interested in what you have to say?’ says Pachter.
You’d think the simple ‘Hello’ would be completely inoffensive, but apparently it’s a bit too informal if you don’t know the person very well.
‘Good morning / afternoon / evening’
Time zones people!
It’s too informal and abrupt, as Schwalbe says: ‘It’s a bit jarring right off the bat – like someone is shouting at me. Even without the exclamation, it’s a bit abrupt. Better to precede the name with “Hi” than just blurt it out.’
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Come on and admit it – this is kind of annoying.
‘Mrs. / Mr. / Ms. [First name]’
‘This is how children address their teachers’, says Pachter. ‘Mrs. Susan, can you help me with this math problem?’
So there you have it, life problem solved.